May 30, 2022: We were supposed to have meteor showers tonight so at about 11.30 I shut the outdoor porch lights off and ventured out front. Unfortunately, the cloud cover was fairly thick though with a few holes here and there. I could see a couple — only a couple — stars poking through. Amazingly, however, I did see what appeared to be a few shooting stars, blinking at me even through the clouds. How can this be? I watched in amazement but kept seeing little dots of green-ish-white light flickering and moving. Could this be airplanes? But why so many at almost midnight? Then, to my astonishment, I realized they were not just up in the sky but all around me. It was a truly magical experience. In the end, it turned out they were not shooting stars but fireflies, completely surrounding me and flooding the whole yard and street with their tiny biological lanterns. It wasn’t the show I’d come for, but it was just as fulfilling.
About 10-15% of people in public continue to wear masks, especially in crowded shopping places. We are apparently experiencing something verging on a new surge in the US, but it is still limited and while it is infecting many people like me who are fully vaccinated and boosted, still, the symptoms are mild (for the vaccinated). It seems by now the politics have drained out of the COVID thing, though by now other, related side effects like supply chain issues have taken over. China is still struggling, worse than ever, to an extent that its economy is again being impacted. I read reports that economic growth this year for China may max at 5.5% — almost unheard of. In part China’s own policies are to blame both in terms of how the government has reacted to the pandemic and its banning of foreign vaccines. Still, Beijing apparently fears mass deaths again, and is suitably panicked.
The war in Ukraine is starting to fade from headlines, though it continues. An acquaintance from Kyiv has apparently fled to Warsaw. It is excrutiating to watch from afar, to see people going through what people did in 1939-1945 again. We donate, but feel powerless.
On a lighter note, we have taken up yard work with a vengeance now, so the lawn mower is fully tuned up and has already mowed the full lawn once, plant beds have been mulched, the flowers are in, and vegetables will go in shortly. To my astonishment the chainsaw and weed whacker both fired up with minimal fuss and worked beautifully. I am already starting my regular summer yard watering routine. The neighbors on both sides of me report rats last year and this one, which I have not seen. If I do, some varmint control will be in order.
What I wouldn’t do for a Halligans drink with Dean and the whole crew now.
Be well —
May 5, 2022: OK, so it’s been a while since I’ve written. I have had my second booster shot recently. The first three shots had absolutely no effect on me so I assumed this would be the same, but I was wrong. I spent a day with a jumble of mild symptoms — headache, slight fever, irritated sinuses, mildly sore throat, etc. — but it was mostly over after a day. It was oddly difficult to concentrate that day. About 20% of people wear a mask in public, though the CDC is predicting another surge this summer — though mostly in the under-vaccinated South. Actually, quite a few acquaintances have had COVID recently, and several required some extra medications, but all avoided hospitalization. China is apparently in the throes of a major surge right now and most of its major cities are in lockdown again. Apparently the Chinese-made vaccine was not as effective, leaving the elderly and immune system-compromised vulnerable, so the govbernment there fears another massive wave of deaths.
Spring is here, and in fact it is slowly dawning on me that I will probably have to mow the lawn this weekend. I looked out the back window today and noticed the grass and weeds are about tall enough to obscure the bottom step of the porch steps. Yup, time to mow. The days are consistently in the 50s now, some even in the 60s, but nights typically dip back into the 30s — for my wife, pellet stove-worthy temperatures. I don’t mind. It has also been (as is usual for April-May, I suppose) quite windy recently except for this one day where the warmth of the midday sun just settled on the place — unfortunately, bringing with it the odor of the horse farms uphill from us.
I am seeing lots of turkeys out and about recently. One Tom in full display gave me an indignant look when he had to get out of the road as I passed today. I saw a few others later, and yet one more that had been hit by a car. Someone from the town also posted a pcture of a few turkeys hanging around this person’s hummingbird feeder. The yard is filling up with birds again, and it is a tonic. My wife pointed out a sizeable palliative woodpecker on the ground this week, working on the base of a tree. I noticed shortly after a gray squirrel stomping back and forth nearby; I suspect there were some territorial issues at play.
I am mentally and emotionally drained by the events in Ukraine. I keep repeating this like a mantra, but I can’t believe this is happening in 2022.
Travel is picking up again, though costs driven by inflation I suspect will put a dent in that. The corporate world is happy to be able to do in-person events again, but it feels like a false sense of normalcy; again, I sense that inflation-driven rising fuel costs and other supply chain-related issues are going to make travel prohibitively expensive very soon, and company budgets are already risk-averse now. Also, most companies prety much slashed their travel budgets over the past two years, and I suspect they will not be eager to suddenly reinstate those costs.
Be well —
March 16, 2022: It gets hard, sometimes, to continue discussions in our group without Dean. But we do. His presence is sometimes sorely missed.
COVID is on the downswing just about everywhere in the US, though I note new variants continue to emerge in China. I was in New York last week and I’d say maybe 70-80% of people on the streets were wearing masks, though it was still mandated. Still, it felt a bit odd at the conference when I gave my presentation without a mask. To gain entrance to the conference you had to present proof of vaccination and booster shot, at which point you got an electronic badge. Inside, masks were not required, and only the hotel staff wore them. It felt both liberating and dangerous.
Shortages are still endemic, though we want for nothing meaningful. In the context of what is happening in Ukraine, our inconveniences stack up to little. Still, it shows how snarled supply chains are. There are simple things like cat food or juice that are only sporadically available.
Spring is almost upon us, both meteorologically and temporally. I love winter, but I admit I’ll enjoy some warmer days and not having to fire up the snowblower. I’m noticing more critters in the backyard, and I think our lilac bush out front has some buds. That may be optimistic. The weather is beautiful for walking — if only I could walk. An ankle injury in New York has rendered me immobile for a bit. Grumble grumble.
Well, be well and be kind —
March 2, 2022: I can’t believe the world we’re living in. Ukraine is afflicted with misery, the murderous mania of a man unable to see the humanity in others. I wonder if he can even see it in himself? Videos are surfacing of children dying in the carnage. I am horrified. I write constantly to describe what is happening — a function of people reporting on the ground what they’re experiencing– while providing some historical background and context. It’s what I can do best, for now.
I have to admit that while each day of the past week — this is Day 7 of this war — I have been shouting my outrage from the rooftops, as it were, I also realize that I am guilty of some hypocrisy. Someone posted pictures on FB of the NATO campaign against Serbia/Yugoslavia in 1999 claiming the US was guilty of the same things the world now condemns Russia for — and I disagree, at least in that example. Russia is waging a naked war of conquest in Ukraine now, but in 1999 the US and NATO were attempting to stop Serbia from committing genocide in Kosovo. War is always fearful and monstrous, but in some cases, it is unfortunately necessary. Unlike the current Russian war, the US and NATO in 1999 had no interest in seizing territory or overthrowing the Serbian government. It was simply to force Serbia to stop its military campaign against unarmed Kosovo civilians who, by the hundreds of thousands, were hiding in forests without food or clothes, in winter. Modern Serbs like to pretend that Kosovo is a creation of the West, but the West tried to negotiate some sort of settlement with Serbia (not involving mass murder) over Kosovo when Kosovars themselves grew frustrated and declared their independence in 2008. I also remember the tens of thousands of terrified Croatian refugees living in my home university city in Hungary in 1991, driven from their homes by the Serbs. To be sure, when they regained their strength the Croats, Bosnians and Kosovars have each also committed atrocities against Serbs. Indeed, the current EU and NATO troops on the ground in Kosovo today spend a lot of their time protecting local Serbian civilian against Kosovar vigilantes. Sadly, I think the campaign in 1999 was necessary.
However, another person posted a picture of the beginning of the US Iraq War in 2003 with air strikes on Baghdad, and while I was opposed to that war — I didn’t speak loudly enough against it. The Ukraine war is personal to me, but the Iraq War was more abstract, more removed from my life. In the name of both Iraqi civilians and American soldiers who nobly answered their country’s call to fight this baseless war, I should have taken a stronger stand. There was no legal or moral basis for that war. At the time, feeling the tide leaning towards war, I consoled myself with the thought that this war might actually be justified through the redeeming of President George (the elder) Bush’s broken promise to Iraqis and Kurds in 1991 to aid their rebellion against Saddam Hussein. But in truth, attacking Iraq in 2003 just ended getting a lot of innocent people killed, and putting so many more (civilians and soldiers alike) through Hell. I know as I look into the faces of young Ukrainians suffering today that I failed to speak up in defense of young Iraqis years ago.
And this is all to say that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has completely wiped COVID from news headlines. Restrictions are being lifted everywhere, but more out of pandemic fatigue than real public health gains. To be sure, the Omicron variant surge seems to be subsiding, but I have heard of new variants arising elsewhere, and some experts have said that we will still likely be taking some sort of vaccination or vaccination booster for years to come.
I can’t believe the world we live in.
Be kind, be honest, and be well —
February 10, 2022: I noticed this morning that a lot of different birds were flying from all across the yard to my foundation in the backyard. Only when I got downstairs did I find a vantage point allowing me to see what they were doing. It turns out the snow melting off the roof created both a shower and a bath for them, and they were taking turns getting some hygiene in. In the afternoon today it hit 40 degrees. That’s bikini weather in February in New Hampshire.
I also had to shovel some of the ice-slush-slop that accumulates at the end of the driveway a few days ago after work, so at 5.00 I darted outside to clear the end of the driveway before it froze. It took all of 10 minutes, but I realized when done as I stood looking across the river valley to watch the sunset that in fact the sun was still setting — that it was still light out at 5.10 p.m. Just a few weeks ago, certainly around New Years, it was ink black dark outside at 4.30 p.m. I love winter, but it is nice to be seeing light grow again. Turn, turn, turn.
COVID-related supply chain disruption is still in full gear, and each week when shopping there are constant food shortages. I do not complain; this is just an inconvenience, not a real threat. There is plenty of food and we can get most everything we need, but some formerly commonly-available items are only sporadically available nowadays. But it is common to go food shopping and find shelves stocked with an odd item like toilet paper, to mask the fact another item is not available.
The latest is that it is not enough to wear a mask in public anymore. Now CDC guidelines insist on an N95 or KN95 mask. I bought some through Amazon but they were kinda expensive. I was also caught wearing one upside down, though that was on purpose. It helped with keeping my glasses fog-free. I still have a box of regular surgical masks and will finish those up first. I keep that box in the glove compartment of my car.
Be well —
January 29, 2022: We are in the midst of a Nor’easter. We should get 6-12 inches today, mostly light, fluffy stuff. I just took a walk around the property to see how things are shaping up, and basically — it’s snowing in New England in January. I noticed some sparrows were sheltering beneath my porch. Good luck, guys. The temps have been consistently between 10-25 degrees in the day, and around 0 at night. I love this weather. That said, we’re expecting temperatures later this coming week in the mid-40s, so I need to be thorough with my snow cleaning tonight and tomorrow.
The news from the Ukrainian border has become like constantly-breaking waves of near-freezing water. In my later years as a student in Hungary the war broke out in post-Yugoslav Croatia, and my university city was flooded with some 80,000 Croatian refugees. They’d lost their homes, everything — were forced to run with just a bag of essentials. Many had children. And there was the fear that the JNA (Yugoslav/Serb army) might strike at them in Hungary, so they lived in constant fear. Our city was maybe 30 km/20 miles from the border. The JNA did in fact launch an attack one night, disguised as an “accidental” mission that strayed across the Drava River, then border, into Hungary. In truth, Hungary was actively aiding the Croatian separatists at that point so this JNA attack was aimed at Hungary, not the refugees. They bombed and strafed the village of Barcs just across the border, peppering homes with shrapnel holes and killing a German Shepherd. But the temperature among Croat refugees went through the roof, and the fear was palpable. My landlady at the time, an old woman in her 80s, told me stories of life during the war (i.e., World War II). Back then I collected a lot of anecdotes of experiences from the war and the 1956 revolution. While listening to these stories, I would see glimpses of the same fear in my teller’s eyes as I could see in the Croat refugees’ eyes. All of these stories are coming back to me now as I keep reading and hearing about Ukrainians making the same preparations now: making emergency “go” bags, making plans for how to gather up the kids and family, which routes will be used to get out of the area, and where they will head. All horribly familiar.
The omicron wave seems to be subsiding here, though new variants are rising elsewhere, particularly Europe. We had a scare with my baby nephew when it was thought he tested positive but that out to be a false alarm. It turns out just had an ear infection, though he is miserable enough with that. Still, my sister-in-law, who lost her previous son in his sleep, spent each night up next to his crib last week. He seems to be improving now. Oddly, with current CDC guidelines my niece — his older sister — was able to go to school unmasked, despite his initial positive test.
Be well —
January 12, 2022: I think the conversation started with Denisovans. There had been some recent new discovery in some cave in Siberia again, shedding slightly more light on our distant relatives. From there our conversation wandered into just how much inter-breeding took place between Denisovans, Neanderthals and our (direct) ancestors, homo sapiens. It was at this point, I think, that I engaged in some wild and probably wholly inappropriate speculation. I started by imagining an ancient homo sapien wandering through a European wood one day when he comes upon a Neanderthal. His first reaction is, “I need to kill this thing.” (That would be our MO. Admit it.) Then my speculation devolved, and I continued with something like, “…but then she bent over…” I recall that Lindsay grunted at this point. I’m not sure if this was in amusement, or disgust. Before I could continue, however, Dean piped in with, “And he said, ‘I think I’m in love!” And we all laughed. This conversation took place as we were wrapping up at T-Bones, a few months ago.
I miss you and your wonderful sense of humor, Mr. Quarrell.
The omicron variant is raging now. Today Dr. Fauci said essentially, we’re all going to get it. The good news is that for those fully vaccinated and boosted, it will be a non-event. However, there is danger. My niece and nephew are too young to be vaccinated yet, so we need to be militant about testing. We have indeed been hearing more and more friends who had COVID in the last month. It seems we are sure to join that list. We began, for the first time since this pandemic began, to formulate an isolation plan should (when) one of us finally gets it — but we realized our home layout just doesn’t make that practical. And so Plan B is to accept that if one of us gets it, both of us will. The concern at that point is that we quarantine ourselves (together) to ensure we don’t spread to others, ESPECIALLY our niece and nephew, but anyone. It seems there is a high rate of reinfection with the omicron variant, so I’ll definitely be getting a fourth booster shot.
Before going to bed the night before last I peeked out the front window and saw, to my surprise, that it had snowed. We only got 2-3 inches, but my wife was going to be leaving to work before dawn. Reluctantly I geared up and went out and shoveled. It was very light and powdery (it being about 0 degrees), and so it took all of maybe 40 minutes. I actually like working outside at night, when all are asleep. There was a beautiful, clear night sky. About 10 minutes before I was done, however, I started getting a hint of an organic smell. At first it smelled almost like skunk, but this is January. It grew stronger — much stronger — and I realized it was either the musky odor of deer or, possibly, a moose. Deer didn’t bother me but admittedly I felt a bit unnerved about the idea of meeting a moose face-to-face. (I was told that the summer before we bought this home, a moose had held up traffic on our street one evening.) I finished and went to bed. When I woke up the next a.m., I saw fresh deer tracks in my backyard alongside the opposite side of the house from where I was working. It appears they emerged from the woods behind and paused by the side of my house to watch me shovel, continuing across the street to the fields beyond my neighbor’s place after I went inside.
Be well —
January 2, 2022: It has been a while. To begin with, I can’t believe he’s gone, but I don’t want to dwell. I have been thinking a lot about how best to honor his legacy, and while we have some memorial ideas, I think the best we could do is write. He was a passionate and committed writer who took his craft seriously — and so should we. So will I. I miss his friendship, his sense of humor, his sense of comradery. And I take to heart both his earnestness but his humility as a writer as well. I think he well understood the real value we can offer both ourselves and our readers by being realistic and just telling our stories well.
His passing notwithstanding, it was a good Christmas, though it felt a bit rushed. Family, friends, some downtime, some kindness.
COVID is back with a vengeance — again. For the fourth time. Lockdowns, bursting hospitals, mask mandates, protests — etc. etc. etc. It is like a broken record by now. But people are dying. Again. My wife had a scare when one of her acquaintances whom she met this past week briefly phoned her the next day and said he had tested positive. This resulted in a rushed trip to the pharmacy to buy a COVID test. Luckily, negative — but we have to take another in 5 days. The new CDC guidelines now say merely that she should wear a mask in public until the second negative test results — otherwise, if positive, quarantine for five days.
Mike Rowe, the “Dirty Jobs” guy, had a rant this week after being attacked online for making new episodes of the show, despite the pandemic. He responded — after making clear he and all of his crew are fully vaccinated, and take all CDC precautions (e.g., masks, social distancing, etc.) seriously — with something to the effect of, <paraphrase> “What you people don’t understand is that this is never going away. You seem to think that if we just get over some hump in vaccinations/infections, then COVID will go away and we can all get back to the pre-2020 normal. That is never going to happen. COVID is with us now just like the flu, and will be forever. We will still be taking some sort of precautions in 10 years. This is how we live now. We need to do everything we can to make sure we and the people around us are safe — but we also have to live our lives, and do our jobs.” </paraphrase> His reaction disturbed me at first, but as I’ve been mulling this over, I think he’s right.
Be well, and be kind —
December 6, 2021: I had a wonderful birthday this year. I definitely needed the distraction. I spent the morning outdoors, then did some writing. And my wife made me the wonderful home-made lasagna and cheese cake she does every year. And we shared it via Zoom with my niece. (My wife had dropped off dinner and dessert for them that morning.) I am a lucky guy, I know that.
OK, so where to start? We’ve had our first snow, but we only got a coating. I have the snowblower all fired up and ready to go, though admittedly I’ve been slow with winterizing the lawn mower. Next weekend. I had spent some time diligently filling out paperwork online to get our booster shots through our local pharmacy, and essentially jumping through bureaucratic hoops, when my wife called in the afternoon early last week and said her sister had just gotten a booster shot for free at her local food store. As soon as my wife got home we headed for the local food store, and sure enough, we got our booster shots — though hey only had Pfizer shots, not the Moderna we originally had. But my doctor was just happy we got booster shots, any booster shots.
More and more people are putting up Christmas decorations. It seems like they’re really going all-out this year. I’ve seen some really fun and impressive displays. One thing I learned is that those inflatable decorations are apparently high maintenance. I had no idea. I though you just filled them with air or helium or whatever and left them be, just topping them off occasionally. But no, apparently there’s a lot more to it than that. I was astounded to see my neighbor’s all deflated on her lawn, and it was explained to me that this is normal. I had no clue. I’m sticking to wreaths and lights, myself — but really, I’m enjoying all the decorations this year. Bring it.
This omicron variant is scaring a lot of people. My understanding is that while it itself is mild, its mutation mostly negates the effect of the current vaccines, opening the door for harsher and more vaccine-resistant variants of omicron down the road. COVID-19 really is a gift that just keeps on giving.
Be well —
November 25, 2021: Happy Thanksgiving! This is one of my favorite holidays. All fun, all family and friends, no pressure.
My neighbor, Marty, passed away this summer. I wrote about it at the time. Marty was a stern guy, kind of an old-school New Englander (“Mind yer own damned business!”), but a friendly one, and a good neighbor. I liked Marty. But he is gone. And his daughter-in-law (roughly my age) has taken full advantage of that fact, as I realized today. I went out to grab the Thanksgiving newspaper when I was shocked to see her enmeshed in erecting about twenty giant inflatable Christmas decorations: Rudolph, Santa’s house, some candy canes, etc. Now, I am pretty certain Marty would not approve, with the evidence being that I’ve never seen him put any kind of decoration on his front lawn. But, well, his daughter-in-law is clearly having fun with it, gleefully going about planning and positioning them around the front lawn. I saw her butt sticking out of an elf house as she was working hard to anchor it. And I know Marty’s wife has been struggling with his passing, so maybe this will cheer her up. So, you know, sorry Marty but, well, why not?
To that point, I have been noticing a growing number of homes locally with Christmas decorations recently. And I kind of like it. I’m not going to do anything elaborate — and I’m with Marty on the inflatable stuff; ugh — but we’ll put some lights up and maybe something traditional. Soon. We’ll see.
I am starting to worry about COVID again, as I’ve been saying in these posts. With each day it is clear that we are in the midst of yet another wave, and our vaccinations are waning in effectiveness. Both of us have appointments for the booster shot. While not meteoric, the number of new cases is rising sharply here in New Hampshire…again. And between vaccinations that are losing their effectiveness and the growth of new strains, even those of us who are vaccinated are (again) in danger. An old high school friend posted on FB something to the effect that the recent court suspension of the OSHA vaccination requirements for employers was a “defeat for communism.” I just can’t believe the childish rhetoric that passes for politics nowadays.
In the midst of this craziness, be kind and be well —
November 21, 2021: Things are getting bad in Europe. Austria went back into full lockdown, Germany is close to doing the same. Russia is still breaking records for number of people infected each day for a while now, and Dutch police opened fire on a rioting mob angry over new restrictions. I will observe that more New Hampshirites continue to wear masks in public situations. We scheduled both of us for booster shots in December. I will be relieved when we both have those. These will buy us another 6 months of protection. Two years in, and we’re still worrying about the basics.
We attended a memorial event for a friend today. He had passed away early this summer, but his widow held his memorial service just today. I think she’s simply been overwhelmed. She and he used to go on these exotic beer tour vacations, targeting microbreweries around the country they’d read about. They would constantly show up in my Facebook feed with pictures of both of them holding up a glass of some new frothy beer. In this light, his widow decided to hold his memorial in a local microbrewery, and even worked with the owners to have some of his favorite blend beer bottled with a custom label, with a one of those pictures of him holding up a mug while grinning widely. They sold bottles of this newly-christened Doug Beer, with proceeds going to a charity. We bought a couple bottles. He was very active in support of causes he thought important, all of which could be summed up under the heading “human dignity.”
His widow also brought a box of his CDs, and begged people to take some home. He was a prolific concert hoarder, meticulously recording each show and even making a custom CD cover for each. He reportedly has thousands of these CDs. I saw shelves of them organized around the living room in their house, but apparently there were far more. She begged me to stop by and pick up more. I have the CDs I took today right now on my desk next to me as I write this, and they’re reminding me both of him but also, they remind me just how much my generation loves music.
Last Thursday night as the sun was setting at about 5.00 p.m., I was racing towards the food store for weekly shopping when I noticed in my headlight beams the faint, tiny crystalline flutters of the season’s first snow. You couldn’t even see it outside of the light, but there it was. For me, this is a welcome sign.
Thanksgiving will be this week. I really enjoy the day, just relaxing and spending time together. Dinner is no big fuss, just the usual suspects — some turkey breast or a leg, stuffing, and some veggies, followed with a dessert of some sort. I truly am grateful for much.
Be well —
November 11, 2021: Veterans Day. I collect helmets from the World Wars, and have a dozen from World War I. It seems like ancient history now. All of these helmets are now at least a century old. When I was a kid growing up, there were often World War I vets included in Veterans Day parades — granted, old men, but still, they were there. And now living memory of those events has almost completely passed. It was a pointless war, but one which had tremendous impact on our world today. When I was a kid, average people knew what Belleau Wood or the Argonne meant, but fewer nowadays. Oddly, with the pandemic, I find an increasing amount of connection and commonality with the people a century ago. Back in the early 1980s, CSN put out a song that for me captures the essence of Veterans Day. (The story is that Stephen Stills was backstage prepping for a concert when he went into a meditation of sorts and just began playing this, and using lyrics he’d been toying with. Crosby and Nash were stunned and loved it.) Memorial Day is for those veterans who died in the line of duty, while Veterans Day was meant to honor all veterans — living and passed. But I still connect this holiday in my mind to World War I (which ended on November 11, 1918), and our species’ inability to overcome our propensity for violence. Stephen Pinker claims we’re improving, but if so, slowly. The 1980s British comedy series Blackadder ended its 4th and final season brilliantly after a season of some of the best comedy writing ever, but abruptly and unexpectedly ending the finale episode with all the characters being called up for one of those mindless frontal assaults World War I was famous for, and the camera fades as they go “over the top” (meaning climbing out of their trench and heading towards the Germans) and all you hear as credits role is machine gun fire, with the implication that none survive. You realize that everything you’ve watched the entire season, all the trials and tribulations, all the fun and humor — all was for nothing. Powerful stuff. That said, we sadly live in a world that still requires people willing to sacrifice to defend our higher ideals. I salute all warriors, past and present, who have sacrificed to defend the values and life we lead.
COVID cases are climbing once again. Actually, Europe is in disaster mode at the moment, sadly — mostly Eastern Europe, where vaccinations have lagged badly. Russia is getting pounded, but Romania and elsewhere are also seeing huge spikes in new cases. New lockdowns are being rolled out again. ABC News reported 22 U.S. states are also seeing rises in infections (including New Hampshire), though not as dramatically as in Europe. Still, a winter surge — a 4th wave — is apparently taking shape. Reports are that vaccinated people are a surprising number of those being hospitalized, indicating waning effectiveness of vaccines over time. (The report said that underlying conditions may also be a contributing factor.) I want to get the booster shot but quite frankly, the information available is vague and unclear whether I qualify. I am still investigating. My wife asked our doctor and his response was, “Try, see what happens.”
I was walking by my back window last evening and just happened to glance out at sunset, when the setting sun’s rays caught the few remaining yellow and orange-colored leaves in the backyard just right, creating a preternatural glow. It was one of those sights that makes you feel glad to be alive.
Be well —
October 27, 2021: I just had to travel to New York State, and I was surprised to see so few people wearing masks compared to here in New Hampshire. (And when I got back today, I found an article leading WMUR, the local news station, about how a fall infection surge seems to be shaping up here.) There were spaces that were strictly mask-only and enforcement seemed to be pretty decent in New York. Luckily, there was no fuss on the flights, despite recent reports of some people throwing what can only be described as adult tantrums when asked by airlines to wear masks.
I had to visit a local hospital, however, and they were a bit wishy-washy on that point. On the surface they seemed strict. Big signs out front announced you had to wear a mask, and not just any mask but their masks only. (There were lots of boxes of masks available on tables by the door.) This was convenient but I’m already used to carrying a few in my coat pockets so I had my own — to which none of their security raised any objections. Then, their signs also declared that out-of-staters (e.g., me) must quarantine locally for two weeks before entering, but again, security didn’t question or stop me when they gave me the hall pass, for which I had to give them my (New Hampshire) drivers license. Furthermore, none of the security people did anything to stop the several people who simply skipped the security lines and entered the hospital without getting a pass. And finally, one of our visiting party chatted with a family member of another patient, who revealed that patient had just died of COVID — in the room right next to the person we were visiting, who did not have COVID (but luckily was fully vaccinated).
This is in stark contrast to the New Hampshire hospital where I got my vaccinations. Granted that was earlier in the pandemic crisis and everyone was more concerned, but still… The hospital literally ply-wooded off a whole section of the hospital to exclusively deal with both vaccinations and COVID cases.
It is wonderful to be home again. I am looking forward to Halloween this weekend. My wife has taken to staging a human-sized Halloween decoration skeleton in odd poses for me to find around the home recently. When I got home tonight, I found him (her?) arranged like it was clinging to the hood of my car, hanging on for dear life.
I am in full sympathy; life feels a bit like that recently.
Be well —
October 21, 2021: We are full blast into fall. The leaves are beautiful, currently at their height, and the nights are cool. (My wife asked me two nights ago to start the pellet stove at night for the first time this season.) It was very comfortable for the whole family to be huddled on the couch with blankets while the stove blazed. Nice. I had some turkeys in the backyard this week, and my wife – cognizant of the imminent rut season — almost hit a very distracted deer that bolted in front of her car not far from our home. I will probably mow the lawn for the last time this weekend.
We did finally get Halloween decorations up. My wife has been accumulating oceanic debris recently and so I incorporated that into a haunted naval theme out front, complete with a fishing net.
Shortages continue, in fact are getting worse. This is less due (directly) to COVID than to the accumulated bottlenecks throughout supply chains caused by COVID over the past year (+). We are starting to see weird shortages and gaps in supermarkets and elsewhere, but it’s in the realm of annoying at this point. This is global. Europe is struggling with gas (natural and petrol) shortages. I spoke to a woman in London this week who described food shelves being empty, in part because of the global supply chain shortages but also in part because of poor planning around Brexit.
I’ll describe an incident that took place yesterday. My 5 year old niece needed dental surgery — not killer stuff, but serious enough she needed to be knocked out, as is common for young kids. Everything went smoothly. However, she woke up a bit early — after the surgery was done and she was already in a recovery room — but before either the dental staff or her parents expected. This meant she was alone when she woke up — and she freaked out, going into full-blown meltdown mode, screaming and kicking. She was present a year ago when the ambulance came and took her baby brother, and she was present in the hospital room when the hospital staff beat the poor boy senseless trying to save him. She also watched her brother be put into the black bag. When she woke up yesterday, in her mind they were going to do the same to her, and put her in a bag and take her from Mommy and Daddy. It took a long time for her Mom and Dad to calm her down and reassure her. I got this story from her very shaken mother last night.
Last week while food shopping someone said “Cool shirt, Dude!’ when I walked in, referring to my tie-dye t-shirts that my wife so hates. But while I was in line, the teenage-cashier noticed lightning embedded in the front artwork, and asked if it was for Shazam, the cartoon character. Apparently he’s never heard of the Grateful Dead. Win some, lose some.
Be well —
October 13, 2021: A lot of craziness over the past two weeks. One attempted suicide, and three failing marriages. Lots of frantic phone calls. We are wondering to what degree COVID is contributing to the craziness through sheer pressure. People have been locked up for more than a year, and cracks are beginning to appear. Mental health has been front and center for us for the past couple weeks.
On the positive side, it seems as if the worst of the most recent wave of infections is receding somewhat, with only a few states still surging. Dr. Fauci said there may be another wave, but for now, things are subsiding. In public it’s about 50-50 of those wearing masks, but it seems to be holding steady. We wear masks. And we got our flu shots as well.
There had been talk for a month or more of a booster shot for those who got the Pfizer shot, but I’m just starting to hear of a similar shot for Moderna. We’ll see. If it becomes available, we’ll do it.
My mental health is helped tremendously by the season, by the beauty of the transforming trees, and the cooler nights. We haven’t fired up the pellet stove yet, but next week temperatures dip into the low 40s at night — so we’ll see. I’ve also been listening to a lot of good music lately. Played some Philip Glass and Van Morrison tonight.
We’re also distracted by decorating the front yard for Halloween. There is a friendly rivalry between the neighbors, and we’ve admittedly been lagging the last couple years. Time for catch up. It’s a fun holiday, and we get a decent number of trick-or-treaters here. I also got a giant pumpkin which has been strategically stationed at the front door.
Seriously: be well —
September 30, 2021: There’s been discussion of a stronger-than-usual fly season because people are exposing themselves more in public to others’ germs. We’ll be getting our flu shots this week or next.
More and more color is showing up all around. It is beautiful. I am waiting for my neighbor’s maple tree to go red; when it does, it is spectacular. It almost glows. And this week it’s been getting down into the 40s. It is 45 degrees now. Very nice. Though a skunk wandered close to the back window this evening, as evidenced by its — well, you know.
I saw an article on a popular science page that portrayed the COVID crisis as a long term event lasting many years, possibly a decade. It described people having to take pills in some years to continue relative immunity. I also learned this weekend of the death last year of an acquaintance, an ardent rightwinger. In his obituary, I was surprised to see they attributed his death to COVID. I know he left a wife behind. He was in his thirties. I don’t know if he had any conditions, but he seemed to be me to be a strong guy. I’ll say that he was at least kind.
Be well —
September 20, 2021: I’d swear it was a duck, though I am now admittedly less certain. I came into the backyard to plan out my lawn mowing strategy, and noticed eyes looking at me from the corner of some bramble about mid-way back into the yard. These eyes looked different than the usual squirrel or bird eyes that meet me back there, and they were attached to a black mass larger than the usual suspects as well. I stepped forward, and it kinda looked like a duck, like maybe a ring-necked or goldeneye. My wife noticed my intent focus and asked what I was looking at. I looked at her then motioned for her to come closer to me slowly, but in that split moment whatever I was looking at disappeared back into the bushes. My wife thinks I’ve maybe been sneaking some NyQuill.
This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Two decades ago while we were living in New Jersey, I came out our apartment back door to be confronted by a wounded Mallard duck, its wings splintered and with blood on its feathers. Like a Gary Larson cartoon we both became aware of each other at the same time and froze. (Reference: “Anatidaephobia: the fear that somewhere, a duck is watching you.” — the Far Side). I had no plan but I went to scoop him up, and discovered (I suspect he was as astonished as I) that he could still fly. Our encounter ended quickly, leaving me standing, duckless.
I am still today duckless.
I’ve been reading more horrific stories of people dying of COVID. It shouldn’t be happening, but it is. Today on the local news, a Republican state representative rejected testimony by the state Health and Human Services Commissioner — also a Republican, for a Republican administration — in our state legislature to the effect that most COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state are among unvaccinated. He based this dismissal on some out of state radio talk show he’d heard that called such statistics lies. Years from now, when historians are writing about our times, they will be stunned that such stupidity existed. Facts mean nothing, loyalty to party über Alles.
I am noticing more people wearing masks again. People are scared. My own work has mandated (per President Biden’s order) that we supply proof of vaccination, or declare non-vaccination, in which case we must follow specific rules in the office (masks, distancing, etc.). I got an emails from our town that vaccinations were being provided for free in our town library. The state also apparently has a mobile vaccination unit that roams the state, offering free jabs. BUT — but — there are fewer and fewer takers.
In these crazy times, be kind, be sane, and be well —
September 13. 2021: For days my neighbor’s bushes have been sparkling at me. They’re kind of pretty colors, and patriotic even, red, white and blue. It’s most noticeable on sunny days, but even on overcast days I catch glimmers of the sparkling out of the corner of my eye. It can be quite distracting. My first reaction was that I should start cutting back on the drugs, but my wife informs me that he had spread some sort of reflective strings throughout his bushes to ward off birds, who otherwise eat the berries. (She had talked with him.) Still, it’s an odd thing to see.
Though it’s getting cooler recently at night, I enjoyed watching some bats flying around last night at dusk. This surprised me, that insects were out and about when the temperature was in the low 60s, but the bats were zigging and zagging all over the place, clearly in pursuit of dinner. I’ve never understood why people fear bats. A couple jobs ago, my lack of fear or revulsion at bats led to my being appointed the official bat deportation official when one would attach itself to the brick walls on the stairwell landings in the office, which they inevitably did weekly. I would cup a large plastic jar over them, then slide a thin laminated card beneath to coax them gently off the wall. Once trapped in the jar, I’d release them on the far (and shaded) side of the building where they’d immediately head for the eaves. For all I know, I was capturing and releasing the exact same bat each week.
The New Hampshire Writers Project met tonight at Zorvino’s, the first successful meeting in more than a year. It was surprisingly well-attended, given the circumstances. It was a fun evening.
I just read that the bulk of new COVID infections in the worst-hit states are now children. Given that kids below 12 years old can’t be vaccinated (yet), this was inevitable — but horrifying. It’s one thing to be an ignorant ass and refuse vaccination for yourself, but to condemn kids because of your stupidity as well? So much for “Pro-Life.”
We got a regular check up at the eye doctor again. The good news is that our eyes are fine, but the optometrist insisted on masks, social distancing, etc. I’m fine with that — that’s called reasonable nowadays — but it’s still a bit jarring to see (again). When we picked out new frames, they gave us each a small box to deposit any and every frame we touched into, regardless of whether we wanted them or not. They collected them from us when we were done, and they fastidiously cleaned each one before returning them to the wall.
Be kind and be well —
September 10, 2021: I’m noticing more people wearing masks again. This is a good thing. On the local Facebook page for our town, which is mostly dominated by school politics and events, fierce battles have broken out over a mask mandate. Civility is a distant memory. I hate the culture wars.
We’re having weird shortages again, this time (reportedly) because of shortages of drivers for transport: trucks, trains, ships. There are serious breakdowns causing bottlenecks throughout our distribution system. Someone recently was telling me about how the port of Los Angeles is seized up, with ships waiting for weeks, even months to unload.
One positive thing about this time of year is we can get most of our vegetables from local farm stands. I’m also noticing spots of red, yellow and orange popping up in trees here and there.
Tomorrow is that day, that anniversary. Last year I went into detail on my memories from that day, but one thing that is clear is that it is no longer a day of unity. David Brooks put it well when he said that in the very late 1980s and over the 90s, it seemed like we were triumphant. The Soviet Union was collapsing, South Africa dumped Apartheid, dictatorships around the world (Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Greece) were ending, China was opening up — it seemed like a global consensus had finally developed around democracy and (relatively) free market capitalism. But then came 9/11, which seemed at the time like an irrational act out of the blue committed by a small group of extremists, but in many respects (so argues Brooks), 9/11 represented a rebellion against this consensus, the opening shot in a global reaction against globalism, free market systems that favored the elites, democratic systems that forced people to respect those they didn’t respect. Terrifying.
In a world that values theater and self-righteousness over kindness and forbearance, be kind and be well —
September 5, 2021: Glorious, glorious, cool September. The temperatures have been in the high 60s, low 70s during the day, and the 50s at night. I’ve slept like a baby the past couple nights — for the first time in weeks, if not a month.
The delta variant is ripping through New Hampshire, though not as badly as the South. Still, I just checked my town and we have 21 confirmed cases now. There’s been some confusion about when boosters will be available, but I know they’re coming. Just having that cold made me much more aware of how I can spread stuff, so I’m being more vigilant about wearing a mask in public. And in a month, we’ll need the usual flu vaccine as well. This past week at work we got word of more cancelled live events. That sort of thing is accumulating again. The reality is, this just isn’t over yet.
We were rummaging in our yard this weekend and to our utter astonishment, while taking apart a large bramble of bushes (including lots of prickers!), my wife found herself staring in the middle of all that at Concord grapes. We have a grape vine, one that was completely buried until yesterday. (Do deer eat grapes?) We have about a dozen nice, fat, plump grapes. Not quite ready to open a vineyard yet, but hey — we’re on the right path.
Not far from that discovery, we also had this summer a very hefty ground nest of yellow jackets. This weekend I very cautiously investigated and found it empty. I suspect the recent heavy rains did them in.
Speaking of heavy rains, my father called in a panic this week when he saw the news of what Hurricane Ida did to New York, reportedly a month’s worth of rain in a single night. We got the remnants of that but in the form of a slightly rougher rain storm, with no winds. New Hampshire got nothing like what New York got. Just the week before we similarly got the wimpy remnants of Hurricane Henri. Both were duds by the time they reached us, but it is a reminder we’re ultimately on the pathway for these things, and sooner or later another real storm, Category 4 or5, may wander this way like in 1938.
I belong to a group of expats, or rather exiles, from an old industrial town, and we share pictures and memories. One things that became clear recently was just how much less snow this city gets nowadays compared to the mid-20th century. It is very evident.
Be well —
August 30, 2021: Man, that was a painful stretch of hot, humid days. I can’t complain much, especially after that very comfortable July, but I’ve barely slept the past two weeks because the nights felt like a Louisiana swamp. Tonight is nice and cool, in the low 60s, but we’ll be heading back into warmer and more humid weather for this week, though not quite as bad as the previous weeks. September, where art thou?
My cold is just about gone now, with some minor, annoying residual symptoms. I’m very sensitive about coughing in public. And I’m back to the exercise routine. This weekend we played Alabama chain gang, taking turns pounding with a sledge hammer and crowbar on a pile of concrete debris the previous owners left in our backyard. It looks like there were once concrete steps out front, and I suspect a concrete patio in the back. Someone busted it all up, and piled it up on the back corner of the yard, partially obscured by the woods. We’re breaking it up both to (eventually) get rid of it, but as well we’re breaking the large rocks out of the concrete and hauling them up front for our burgeoning stone wall. My back’s a bit sore… And where does one take concrete rubble? The town dump? Dump it secretly at night in a neighbor’s yard?
I’m still seeing a steady 15-20% of people wearing masks in public. Things are getting slightly worse here in New Hampshire but we see the horrific news of what’s unfolding in Florida, Texas, and the Midwest. This is the proverbial nightmare we can’t wake from. I saw this week a couple new stories reporting that some insurance carriers are either hitting unvaccinated insureds with a special surcharge (in one case, $200 per month) or simply refusing to cover any COVID-19-related treatments. I also heard of one friend’s wife’s company offering a “carrot” — a $500 bonus — for employees to get vaccinated.
I have this odd hybrid squirrel in my backyard. It has the body, shape and size of a normal gray squirrel, but has a strong red squirrel coloring tinge (with some gray elements), and as well, the little tufts of fur red squirrels have on the tips of their ears. I think I have a mutt. He (she?) seems to have mated up with a normal gray squirrel. I did a double-take a couple times when looking out the window.
The news from Afghanistan this past couple weeks has been devastating to watch. The planning and intelligence seems to have been very poor.
Be kind, and be well —
August 19, 2021: This is Day 5 of this summer cold — and it was confirmed today to be a summer cold. Though the symptoms were classic cold stuff, my wife was nervous so I called our doctor and was immediately signed up for a COVID-19 test. I had to show up at a special facility set up by our medical center at an appointed time, and wait in line in my car (with maybe 3-4 cars ahead of me). The first car I saw go into the tent was in there a good 20 minutes so I feared this would take long, but I was probably in the tent myself maybe 20 minutes after the first car. Once in the tent, a heavily PPE-ed nurse who looked like she worked in a military NBC unit asked for my name (I just gave her my license; it’s always easier, especially when speaking through a mask), my date of birth, and then she jammed two swabs up my nostrils. I will say that the COVID-19 test was much more effective at cleaning out my sinuses than a Cherry Halls. I had 2 tests done (per doctor’s orders); a rapid test that could give results in 15 minutes, and a more detailed test whose results will be available in about 3 days. Each test had their own set of swabbing. On the drive home while stopped for a traffic light I checked my phone, and sure enough there was a text awaiting me informing me the rapid test had come back negative. (If I’d tested positive, I would have gotten a phone call instead.)
And to celebrate, my cold is actually slightly better today. Today is the first day I’m not oozing something. I’ve started coughing which means it’s moved into my chest, and that’s fine. That’s usually the final stage of a cold for me. Another week or so of diminishing symptoms, and if all goes well, in a week or two I’ll suddenly realize one day — “Hey, I don’t have any more symptoms! I’m free!”
While I was waiting in line for the test, I had the opportunity to admire a field of sumac trees, some of which were showing the early signs of turning red. One day a couple summers ago the local DOT chief was complaining to us about sumacs, calling them an invasive species but they’re native to where I’m from, and evoke wonderful memories of summers and fall. I’m thinking of planting some on one side of my yard.
Storms coming tomorrow, hopefully to relieve us of this humidity, and apparently we’re going to get the tip of a Caribbean tropical storm on Sunday night.
Be well —
August 14, 2021: The thing about summer colds is you don’t know which part of your misery derives from the cold, versus the weather. I have a sore throat and my sinuses are severely irritated, and I may have a very slight fever. This is the first day with this thing. I’m also sneezing non-stop. But, it is also 86 degrees with very high humidity. I have a method of typing in the summer so that the sweat from my drenched arms doesn’t collect on my wooden desktop. My forehead requires constant mopping. At least we’re supposed to get a break today, with a cold front coming through and dropping both temperatures and humidity. In fact, just as I wrote that last sentence, a very nice, cool breeze just blew in. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Also, my wife, in a fit of sympathy, made me some freshly-squeezed orange juice. Annoying symptoms aside, life is good.
A sign sure to distress Summer People but sweet music to my heart is the sight of a Swamp Maple in the back yard already beginning to turn bright red. A corner of my back yard is connected to wetlands — in non-drought summers, I can barely walk back there without losing a shoe — and so we have some Swamp Maples bordering the property. Autumn beckons! I’m celebrating by listening to Jerry Garcia/David Grisman’s “Old and in the way.”
The CDC confirmed yesterday that booster shots are almost assuredly on the way. My boss has me planning for a springtime conference event in 2022 but I’m fairly certain it will be forced online, just like this year and last. I read somewhere this week — The Economist, I think — that at this point, the pandemic being over by summer, 2022 is achievable but an aspiration still, with repeated flair-up surges each fall during flu season for years to come.
While I was writing this my wife called as she’s driving to see our niece — I was supposed to go, but I now have the cooties– and the flow of conversation was repeatedly interrupted with something like, “…and then she told me she would do — WHERE THE F*** DID YOU LEARN TO DRIVE, A******, RURAL F***ING MONTANA? — anyway, she said…”
Be well —
August 11, 2021: Well, I knew the good weather was too good to last. At 2.15 in the morning, it is now 83 degrees and very humid. In short — it is August. Well, Summer People, enjoy your season. I suppose I had a pretty good July. And September is just around the corner….
We are in the grips of a horrid 4th wave, almost completely self-inflicted, though to be fair several variants have ripped through our population. Still, by all accounts we would be suffering so much less if we just took some basic measures. Some odd food and supply shortages have cropped up again, though not nearly as bad as when the pandemic started. I can’t find our brand of cat food again, which is odd. A favorite juice is also suddenly unavailable for weeks. I haven’t checked, but wonder if their facilities are in a state being impacted by the current wave. A computer chip shortage has also put a big dent in a lot of electronics supplies, up to and including cars.
I’m hearing stories all over of businesses and restaurants struggling to find staff. The Wall Street Journal chalked this up to people who lost their jobs a year ago having moved or found other jobs, or are quite frankly afraid to return to a close-contact service environment again. The restaurant where I get my weekly lunch treat has restricted its hours because of staffing challenges.
I walked into the backyard yesterday to check something, and unexpectedly found myself confronted by a beautiful field of weeds in bloom. So, a year ago my neighbor had the land alongside our property cleared of trees and brush (to my dismay) but he let it grow over this year. He passed away a few weeks ago so no idea what will happen now, but in just a single year the lot has grown over again substantially. There are some weeds back there which are 6-8 feet tall. None of this is new, but as I said, this week the whole damned field is in bloom with these little yellow, bell-shaped flowers maybe an inch long each, nicely accented by some Queen Anne’s Lace. The whole field was buzzing with bees and hummingbirds. What a nice surprise.
Be well, and stay cool —
July 31, 2021: I am having a wonderful summer, which means that most New Englanders are having a horrible summer. Sorry. I know it must be miserable if you like the sun and heat. And this summer is probably killing businesses already decimated by the COVID crisis on the beach. But this summer, while starting out with some impressive heat waves in May reaching 100 degrees, has since been wet and cool. I should mow my back lawn but I have to wait for some of the puddles to be absorbed into the ground. Tonight it’s going to be 51 degrees. I am in my glory. Almost giddily I have arranged for the annual stove and chimney inspections. Now, again — I apologise to my fellow New Englanders who feel like they’re being robbed this summer. And, of course, there is the reality that while this summer is already half over, August — traditionally, the hottest month — still awaits us. So you may have some consolation, and me some misery waiting. But for now — I’m lovin’ it.
Things are spiraling out of control, and as I feared, it seems we are heading once again back into another lockdown. I read a detailed account yesterday of how vaccinated people can become re-infected, but usually with few consequences for themselves. The danger is that they can transmit the disease for days after infection, with few or no symptoms themselves. Walmart and other national chains are requiring masks again. I am wearing a mask when indoors in public now. I have a lot of anger for those who have been in denial about all this, but admittedly, there have been some heart-breaking stories coming out of hot-spot states like Missouri and Florida of confused, baffled people being forced to confront a painful reality. I wonder, if in 20 years when their grandkids are doing some school project about the Great COVID-19 Epidemic of 2020-2022, they will admit to their own foolish denialism.
There are films of an American Nazi Party rally held in Madison Square Garden in New York in 1939, attended by 20,000 people — with all the militaristic parading, swastikas, portraits of Hitler, Nazi salutes, etc.; I similarly wonder how many of those people were honest just 4 or 5 years later about their attendance. You wonder.
Be well —
July 22, 2021: We went food shopping tonight, and per revamped CDC guidelines (as of this a.m.), we wore masks. There was a noticeable larger number of people doing so as well — nothing close to 50%, to be sure, but more than the past few weeks. It is good to see some taking this seriously. Stories of vaccinated people getting infected — a situation called a “breakthrough” — have been circulating, but as repeated interviews with medical professionals around the country continue to reinforce, those are a tiny minority. Almost all the new cases are unvaccinated peoples. I read an interview this morning with a nurse in Missouri who described COVID-19 patients who had resisted vaccination now begging to be vaccinated, only to be told it’s too late. Horrible.
On a lighter note, I was mowing the lawn Saturday or so when my wife was upon me. I shut the mower off and she exclaimed, “Didn’t you hear me screaming?” I hadn’t. Apparently there was an unexpected meeting between her and a resident garter snake in the berry garden, evoking strong reactions from both parties. There were no casualties.
Be well —
July 18, 2021: Glorious news! In the midst of our group meeting last Wednesday night, I checked the Halligans website, with low expectations. It had essentially remained unchanged since the COVID-19 crisis hit, giving no indication of the bar’s closing, whether the closing was temporary, when they might reopen, etc. But on Wednesday night I checked it again (almost in desperation), and found the website completely wiped except for a single, simple message: “We Will Be Back Soon!” The Corner Booth will live again.
Talking with family this week, I was told that in New York state mask wearing had fallen to almost nil. Surprisingly, however, masks are reported to still be very common in New Mexico. maybe 50%. I would say that maybe 20% of people in food stores here are wearing masks nowadays. I am not one of them, admittedly, though I now wonder whether I’ve been lulled into a complacency. New infection rates are stable and small here in New Hampshire, though the many variants wreaking havoc elsewhere have been discovered here, but the horror show is unfolding again in hospitals in Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah and California. Doctor after doctor has said there’s a very heavy correlation between those showing up in hospitals now and the unvaccinated. We really are going to be idiots and drag this out to Christmas, 2021 just like they did in 1918; the Great Influenza outbreak began in March, 1918 and lasted until December, 1919. We really are going to repeat that stupidity. We have a friend — I use that term lightly here — who is defiantly against vaccinations, vaccinations of any kind — who has refused to get herself vaccinated. But worse, she has lied to a local public pool, claiming she is vaccinated so they’ll let her kids use the pool. Just amazing ignorance and complete lack of responsibility.
My boss has scheduled me to lead some sessions for our annual client conference in early 2022, so far scheduled to be in person, but I am beginning to doubt it will happen that way. Even before the current wave of infections began, there was concern about trying to hold a live, in-person event simply because so many companies completely eliminated their travel budgets in 2020 and 2021, that at best we anticipate a very limited and cautious return to business travel — as much for budgetary as health reasons.
And to that point, my sister ventured home to visit our parents this past week and got some shocks. First, the ticket price was astronomical. Secondly, there apparently is a rental car shortage nationwide, so she had to plunk down $1,000 beforehand, with no guarantee she’d get a car when she landed. (I’ve since found news articles telling the same story across the country. Some stories described people renting U-Hauls and scooters because they simply couldn’t rent a car.) This makes no sense to me. Did car rental agencies like Enterprise dump lots of inventory in 2020 to make up for lost revenues? Anyway, the flight was repeatedly delayed and she arrived in the destination city well after 2.00 a.m., when the car rental counters were closed anyway. (The next day she was able to secure a car.) Then, to top it all off, in classic fashion they lost her luggage and weren’t even aware of that fact until she pounded her fists on a counter and produced the receipts for the exorbitant luggage check-in fees. Magically, they found her luggage a few days later in a connecting city; apparently , it’d got lost in the shuffle when transferring between planes. Poor customer service, jacked up fees, incompetent staff: air travel in 2021.
On the positive side, we’ve gotten waves of rain over the past week (include a monsoon last night, where it seemed like someone was throwing buckets of water against our windows), with some storms delivering 2-3 inches of rain each day — but all this rain has added up to us being removed from drought status this week.
Be well, and after watching nightly examples on the news of people treating each other like crap, please be kind —
July 5, 2021: Happy Fourth of July! After an ugly heat wave a week ago, it has been mercifully cool and raining the past several days, for which I am very grateful — droughts spook me — but oddly, the local town bullheadedly insisted on holding the traditional fireworks last night despite the rain. I suppose with the pandemic winding down and all the general political craziness, people really, really wanted a normal Fourth. I get it.
The pandemic is seemingly winding down, though new strains are popping up particularly in states with lower vaccination levels. I have mostly stopped wearing a mask in public, as have most, though I notice a minority, maybe 10-15%, still do. Most businesses have signs declaring that the vaccinated need not wear masks, though the unvaccinated should continue to do so — obviously all on the honor system. As I mentioned, my doctor’s assistant had suggested that because of vaccination hold-outs, we may all need booster shots in a few months. A friend is even now traveling in Portugal. Almost normal, though I’ve been reading that death rates continue to spiral out of control in India, Brazil and Russia, mostly because of inept administration.
In other plague news, I have been informed by my boss I will be presenting at a conference in New York in early 2022, with real, live human beings in attendance, in a sign of optimism.
I’ll start with the good news in our personal life. My nephew entered the world last week fashionably late but he and Mom are both completely healthy and doing fine. His sister is re-learning what it means to be a sister. We spent some time last weekend watching her while my nephew was being born, and it was actually kind of fun, though admittedly exhausting. I have renewed appreciation for my parents having put up with me for 18 years.
On the other end of the spectrum, we just learned that my neighbor is in the hospital and is not expected to live through the night. He apparently has advanced cancer, and also has pneumonia. He is in his seventies, and was a very New England guy who was quiet, stoic and kept to himself — usually refusing offers of help, for instance with unloading his truck — but who would occasionally show great kindness, like using his tractor to dig out the end of our driveway from snow and ice slop dumped by plows after a storm. When we first met him we invited him into our home — it was winter — and he proudly described for us how he’d personally installed the bay window that overlooks our back yard for the previous owner. We talked for at least a good half hour before he revealed in passing his leg amputation; neither of us had noticed. He didn’t mention why he’d lost the leg but just matter-of-factly described being told it had to come off, and so he had it taken off. He had mastered the metal prosthetic so well that neither of us guessed he had one. My mantra is that the real value of a life lies in whether someone is missed when they’re gone. We will miss you, Marty.
I had a friend visit for a couple days last week (during the heat wave!) who had quit his job and was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He took a “zero” (a non-hiking day) and stayed with us. We picked him up in Hanover, NH and drove him back to Norwich, VT (just across the river from Hanover), with showers, bed-sleeping and shopping in between. I learned some of the trail lingo from him, and we discussed him writing a book after this experience, which I’ll help with. He was going to go from Georgia to Maine but broke his wrist weeks before leaving earlier this year, and so for time reasons decided to do a “flip,” meaning he started in Harpers Ferry and will complete the trail on Mount Katahdin in Maine, but then will (after a brief respite) go back to Harpers Ferry and do the Southern leg of the Trail. He is sixty years old, but did many test-runs on local trails to both build experience and test equipment before taking the plunge. He’s a guy who rarely steps out of his comfort zone so I am deeply impressed with, and proud of him.
One evening while he and I were on the back porch, we watched a pair of humming birds doing a sort of flying dance just outside the screen door. Very nice.
Be well —
June 18, 2021: I got excited today while shopping when I discovered they’re making a flavor of cat food they haven’t made for over a year now. My cat will be so excited tomorrow for breakfast. The things we took for granted….
A lot is changing, fast. It went from close to 100% of people wearing masks in public places (at least indoors) to maybe 20-30%. While shopping tonight, I noticed a minority still wearing. The CDC guidelines say that if you’re vaccinated, you don’t have to wear it. I had a doctor’s appointment this week and their policy was the same — if you’re vaccinated, no need for a mask. (I did have to present my card to prove vaccination.) Actually, the building did require 100% masks, but our doctor’s office itself abided by CDC guidelines. The doctor’s aid we dealt with before our doctor showed up said he feared we may all require booster shots in 6 months, between the new strains arising and the mass of idiots who refuse to get the vaccine. If that happens, we’ll obviously just do it all again.
Our group met in person again (for the third time, my second time), but we’re struggling to replace Halligans. We ended up at T-Bones, an unsatisfactory substitute in terms of fare and atmosphere (and accessibility, i.e., being able to walk from MG). But, in the context of the world’s problems, that’s minor. When we finally do transition to something more amenable, I will reopen the Corner Booth. Until then, this week we played a fun game of Dean’s devising guessing initials and pseudonyms of famous writers.
We’re in full summer mode. It’s supposed to be close to 100 in a few days. I’m noticing more bats this season, which is both a good thing — I like bats — and a bad thing; more bats = more mosquitos for bats to eat.
We’re waiting on my nephew. He is due any day — any minute, actually. My poor sister-in-law looks like she swallowed a washing machine. The family could use a good distraction. I am curious what his name will be.
I lost a friend this past week. It was terrifying. He was a history professor who collapsed in class in early May, and was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He lasted for five weeks after that — just five weeks. He died last Thursday night, in his home with his family and Hospice. We was only ten years older than me. What a bolt out of the blue. Doug was a funny guy; he had this huge mullet when he met his wife back in the early 90s, and until maybe a decade ago, he looked perennially like he was 15 years old. But he was also extremely intelligent, and as the tributes are rolling in, he was a teacher who had an impact for a lot of people. He also one of those people who didn’t hold back with his laughter; if he thought something was funny, people for blocks around knew it. About the time we were moving we met Doug and his wife for lunch — remember when you could do that? — and I showed him a picture of the massive spool of plastic bubble wrap my wife had bought (She could sit on it comfortably) and he roared laughing in the restaurant.
Be well and have some fun, because none of us knows how much time we really have —
June 5, 2021: The group actually met in person for the first time since March, 2020! Reportedly everything went well, with 5 folks in the flesh and one joining via Webex. We will likely use this hybrid model for some time. The MG, where we meet, requires masks while in the hallways but it is up to each person once in the rooms and the doors are closed. I was planning on joining in person but my evening was taken over by a bone-headed project at work.
While the group is slowly reclaiming its role as a social organization, it has been deprived of an important tool for that role: Halligans. We still have the public space we used for the business side of our meetings — and we’re grateful for that — but we need a new place nearby for libation (e.g., my tea) and social interaction (e.g., gabbing). Still exploring alternatives.
This kind of slow return to “normal” is gratifying, but I am still concerned. The local food-shopping place now only requires masks if you are not vaccinated, which is (without guards at the door) obviously unenforceable so it’s the honor system. With some family members spending a lot of time in the hospital in recent months (non-COVID-related problems), I was surprised to learn that some major city hospitals have pretty much dropped most COVID restrictions, with temperature readers left abandoned on desks near the front door. I wore my mask while shopping because I’m still nervous, and I saw maybe 50% of both workers and shoppers still wearing masks.
The number of people who are refusing to get vaccinated concerns me that we may end up with yet another wave in the fall or winter. And how long will my vaccination last? If another wave emerges, will I have to get revaccinated?
In other news, we’re in a typical New England “spring.” Last weekend the highs were in the upper 40s or low 50s, and it sank to the upper 30s at night so that I ran the pellet stove at night. Today we’ll be in the 90s with nighttime temperatures in the mid-60s. So much for “spring.” New England doesn’t do transitions well.
Be well, and stay cool —
May 30, 2021: A sign of the times. My sister-in-law, who like the rest of us, has been working from home since last year, visited today and she made the following statement to me:
“I’m not sure if I should tell a team I work with that I’m pregnant.”
What’s interesting about this statement is that she is literally due any minute — I am on the alert list this week, in case they suddenly need a babysitter for her daughter in the middle of the night — and quite frankly, she looks like she swallowed a Buick. Now, I don’t say that to be unkind. Before she was pregnant, she was a very active and fit woman, and will likely return to that status after. But my point is that nobody within 200 feet of her would doubt for a moment that she is pregnant, very, very pregnant, and probably due very soon. So, the fact that she felt compelled to wonder aloud about whether she needed to inform one of her work teams about her extremely imminent maternity leave speaks volumes about the limitations of Zoom, or Webex, or etc. I don’t think she would have ever intentionally tried to conceal her pregnancy on conference calls with her team, but apparently somehow the technology has disguised that particular detail.
Speaking of which, I was in a meeting with a (potential) client this past week during which one woman’s head kept gently and rhythmically bobbing up and down; she was on a treadmill designed specifically for desks.
This past week has been one of several firsts. I very briefly visited a friend whom I’d not been in the same room with for a year. And last night we attended a (mostly outdoor) dinner party with friends, maskless. It felt odd. We kept socially distanced, and spent most of the evening seated around a fire out in their backyard. (My wife had Smores for the first time in her life.) All of us have been vaccinated.
Everyone’s nerves are frayed nowadays, so be a kind voice to those around you, and be well —
May 22, 2021: Is our beloved Halligans gone? We are truly orphans. I am surprised because they had good food and room for an outdoor set-up, but I suppose the “magic” of Halligans was a combination of their food and their interior décor (i.e., the old firehouse and brickwork). I mean, a large number of businesses have failed, so this is just sadly one more. I just didn’t expect them to join that group.
An Indian company I’ve been dealing with for work for a while suddenly went silent, and just got back to me last week that they had been ravished by COVID-19, but are beginning to recover now. I met an old friend face-to-face for the first time in a year today. It was a brief encounter, but welcome.
Indoors, in businesses, most are still wearing masks. I certainly still do. I do notice a small minority not doing so now, but I can’t fault them — the CDC guidelines claim fully vaccinated people can do so. I just don’t trust things enough to go mask-less myself yet. I’m hoping to attend a concert in September, for instance, indoors, but will likely still wear a mask.
We got through the anniversary of my nephew’s death yesterday mostly intact. Actually, yesterday itself wasn’t so bad, but in the days leading up to it I could feel the tension in my wife and her sister, and both were on edge. Anticipation is indeed worse sometimes than the actual pain.
On a whim at Job Lots a year or so ago we picked up a ceramic Manhattan cab, maybe 8″ long, with a hole in the side. I hung it in a tree in the backyard and last year it mostly just swung in the breeze, pointlessly. We had a couple sizeable windstorms this spring and I’m surprised it survived. In any event, today I was mowing the back yard and as I passed it I noticed several indignant eyes glaring back at me from inside. I guess it’s rented.
It has been 85 degrees the past couple days, with mild humidity — a fore-taste of summer. During the day I don’t mind but I haven’t slept well the past couple nights. I was definitely built for the cold. It’s supposed to hit 91 degrees next week. In May. And I suppose the early heat has put some folks in a summer mood, a July mood, in fact; my cat has been irritated all evening long by fireworks somewhere in the valley nearby.
Be well —
May 8, 2021: I mowed the lawn today, though I left most of the front untouched and part of one side because certain resident parties alleged that I ran over her flowers last year. She wanted time to move them before the lawnmower-mulcher came through. But, that unfinished effect will drive my neighbor across the street nuts. I await a snide comment when he strolls over to our side of the street to get his mail. Still, apart from all that, I suppose I have few excuses left for avoiding summerizing the snow blower. Ha! As I write, in the evening, I hear my neighbor firing up his lawnmower. In any event, after mowing the lawn I like to sit on the back porch with a cool drink and watch the Starlings sift through the newly-cut grass for bugs and worms.
We went to the local seasonal ice cream place last weekend. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, but we made a tactical error (several, in fact). We wore dark clothing, she was wearing perfume and I had the usual cologne on (no, not “Old Spice”), and we had decided on a warm evening to go to a place oozing with sugar and with large nearby garbage containers. That all adds up to us being eaten alive by black flies and gnats. A week later, and I still look like someone shot me in the face with a shotgun, with all these little red bite marks. Anyway, truth is, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Good ice cream is worth it.
We’ve had two people from my company die of COVID-19 recently, both in India. That country is undergoing an excruciating crisis now, with heir healthcare system in a state of collapse. So much suffering.
Be well —
May 1, 2021: May Day! May Day! Well, it is.
Got a haircut this morning and the barber is now allowed by the town to have people (with masks) waiting indoors. We ran some errands and despite the governor’s having lifted the mask mandate, it happily seems like most people are still wearing them. Now, some municipalities (like Concord) still have their own mask mandates and I think many businesses still require them, but even walking outdoors on a sunny, warm spring day, it seemed like most folks were masked up.
My wife had her second shot yesterday and has had some minor side effects, but nothing serious. I’ve heard a lot of friends get laid up for a day or two afterward, but she just has some minor aches and pains, like a mild flu. Loyal readers of this blog — both of you — will know I escaped without nary a sniffle after my second shot.
I meant to mention a few weeks back that the local seasonal ice cream stand opened. It was a cold, drizzly day in the upper 30s, and there was a line.
There is a thing about being a guy and a homeowner. I honestly couldn’t care less about my lawn, and I’m about as competitive as a slumbering basset hound, but my neighbors over the past couple years have made side comments about the quality of grooming of our lawn, and OK — I’ll admit it; it gets under my skin. So I felt particularly sensitive a week ago when I heard one of them already firing up their lawnmowers. Seriously? Already? I do have grass peeking up here and there. We’ll see — maybe next week I’ll get Old Betsy out of the garage and fire her up. We’ll see.
Be well, and in these crazy times, be kind —
April 19, 2021: It started out innocent enough. About a week and a half ago, I noticed a slight tightening in my foot. I ignored it. Several days went by with little change, but by last Monday, that tightness had graduated to an annoying pain. Nothing catastrophic, but enough to get my attention. The solution, my addled brain thought, was — more walking. So that evening after work, we went for a good long constitutional. Later that night, the searing pain told me I had possibly committed a tactical error. The next morning, my foot swelled up, and was extremely sensitive. Just tapping my toe could catapult me into a blinding, expletive-filled world of pain. I know, because I’m a klutz and repeatedly bashed my toe into furniture while hobbling around. Actually, I’ve always done that; it’s just that I was acutely more aware of doing this now. Anyway, on Wednesday I couldn’t get my foot into my sneaker, but I still believed this would eventually just go away. (Yeah, I’m not that bright.) I ignored it for a few days, and sure enough by Saturday, it kind of was better. Kind of. I mean, it wasn’t worse, and hadn’t fallen off yet. I would like to point out that on Friday I’d resolved to call my doctor, but ran out of time by day’s end, so that was slated for Monday.
But first came Sunday. Two things happened. The first sent a chill through me: my wife wondered aloud if I in fact had a blood clot, having just had my second vaccination shot only a few weeks ago. OK, that scared me. A lot. Then she suggested a vinegar bath, which apparently is a traditional remedy for swollen feet. I was skeptical, but secretly (behind her back) did some quick internet searches, and sure enough, it was a thing. Got some warm water, in went a cup of vinegar, and plunk went my foot. (Both feet, actually. Why not?) My foot immediately swelled up like a balloon, and turned a pretty purple color. Matched my tie-dye, in fact. And to boot, I smelled like a salad.
Now we called the doctor, but since my regular GP was probably out golfing — it was Sunday — we called a local clinic. This was my first experience with telemedicine. I filled out some online forms (including insurance), got a text minutes later, followed after some verifications by another text with a video-conference link. I clicked the link, and met what I assume was a nurse-practitioner. (Again, Sunday.) She was pleasant and professional. I described everything you’ve read so far, then answered a few questions about my health (felt fine otherwise), and finally had to hold my phone down at foot level for a full visual diagnosis. Interestingly she asked me if I’d been keeping my foot elevated — and I confess it never even occurred to me. Right after the call I did so, and within the hour the swelling began going down.
So the good news is I likely do not have a blood clot. I probably sprained my foot sometime the week previous, and made it worse by insisting on continuing to walk on it. (I think the technical term is “dumbass.”) It may have been further aggravated by some bacteria, so I’m on antibiotics for the week, and keeping the hoof elevated, which I admit has gotten a little old by now (Monday). But, the swelling is undeniably going down, and it is less sensitive — so I’ll continue following doctor’s orders.
Be well, and don’t be a dumbass (if you can help it; some of us can’t) —
April 15, 2021: This late in the spring, and we’re getting snow tomorrow. Our area is only supposed to get a dusting, more than countered by heavy rains, but the Monadnock region is supposed to get between 4 and 8 inches. Actually, I’m not surprised. I’ve seen snow in May, and while daytime highs have consistently been for the past few weeks in the 50s and 60s, nighttime temperatures have still often dipped into the 30s. In other words — spring in New England. Again. I was already planning on winterizing the snow blower, but wisely thought to delay doing so (translation: had completely put it off out of sheer laziness up until now, but can luckily claim retroactively to have planned it this way).
Our governor announced that the mask mandate, which was set to expire tomorrow, will not be renewed. I am fully vaccinated and worry less, but many people still aren’t. I fear yet another wave erupting from this, and having to go back into lockdown again. I don’t know when I’ll feel comfortable enough to go out into public without a mask. It isn’t going to be this weekend, I can assure you.
Be well —
April 2, 2021: We went from fairly consistent temperatures in the 50s and 60s, to snow and temps in the 20s and 30s. In other words, spring in New Hampshire. Actually, while I welcome spring, I am enjoying this last fling with winter.
So New Hampshire opened up vaccinations to everyone 16 years old and older this past week, and I immediately went to register my wife on Monday morning — the first day registrations were open. It was shockingly easy to get her an appointment for this week….suspiciously easy. We showed up at the appointed place and time, and found a line of at least a few hundred people wrapped around the building. (Did I mention it was evening, and the temperature had sunk into the 30s?) People were all bundled up and dancing in line to stay warm. A Guardsman approached my wife and got her information, but told her the line was barely moving, and she probably had at least an hour and a half wait ahead of her. (And the station closed at 8.00 p.m., so if you were still in line at 8.00 — you were out of luck.) He mentioned they’d already vaccinated some 1,400 people at this station alone that day. (In contrast, the hospital where I got my shots had processed something like 100 people a day.) He told her she could come back the following morning and if she were in line before 8.00 a.m., they would take her as a spill-over appointment from the night before. She ended up doing that, and luckily was able to get her first shot this morning, as described. And they scheduled her next appointment.
What is important is that she got her vaccination card, which I think is going to be critical for the years ahead. I got mine as well, and it is completed. As soon as I got my second shot, the nurse filled it out, handed it to me, and pretty much commanded me to take a picture of it because apparently there is no central repository of this information — so this card is my only proof of being vaccinated, and thereby will be my key in the months and possibly years ahead for being able to travel or being allowed to enter certain buildings or facilities. It is a relief to see the numbers of those resisting taking the vaccines falling.
Speaking of that lack of a central repository or database of vaccinated citizens, the saga with the VAMS website continued. I called the CDC phone number but got a person who clearly was simply reading from a script and could not actually answer a question. (Remember the “Is your computer plugged in?” days of Microsoft Windows support?) I then reached out directly to the hospital where I had been vaccinated, and the result was a belly-laugh from their side. Essentially, there is clearly a breakdown in communication between Federal efforts and local efforts. I succeeded in getting vaccinated through local, New Hampshire systems, but the Federal (CDC) system does not know that yet, and may never. This may be a problem for me in the future when I travel, but for now, we’ll see. The hospital told me to just ignore the appointments the CDC keeps scheduling for me. I was concerned because I don’t want anyone else to lose out on an appointment because the CDC keeps trying to slot me in, but the hospital said that by now, vaccinations have opened up enough that anybody who wants one can get one, so no worries.
Gonna be a cold weekend, and I’m good with that.
Be well —
March 26, 2021: It has been a full year since I stated this blog. At the time back in spring, 2020 we really thought this would last a few weeks at best. Now, my company is already nixing plans for in-person conferences in 2022. Most people today wear masks when out and about in public, and businesses usually have hand sanitizer available somewhere. I am fully vaccinated, and more and more friends and family are joining me.
Be well —
March 20, 2021: Today is the first day of spring. Mother nature has caught up because aside from geese crapping on my car, we also have the lady bugs back. There is one window in our home that every year is the intense focus of lady bug conjugal activities, and is therefore crawling with them throughout the warm months. And it has started. Or, they have started. But as well, it is slated to hit 55 degrees F today. I have some work indoors to do, but am thinking of attacking some rampant vines in the backyard — if the chainsaw cooperates.
My tale of VAMS woe follows. Because of a condition I was put in the first (-ish) group of people to get vaccinated, and was told in January by my doctor to register for the first shot, which I did through the CDC vaccination website (VAMS). I received the confirmation email, and a document with a QR code I was supposed to bring. However, some days later I received another email from VAMS informing me my appointment was cancelled. I called the local NH state hotline for vaccinations, and was told no, everything’s fine, just show up at the appointed place and time. When I did that, I was told (after waiting an hour outside) my name was not on the list, and I would have to go home and re-register for a new appointment. (Also, they had no idea what to do with the QR code I handed to them, and it did nothing for my case.) So, frustrated, I went home and re-registered, now landing a spot on April 15. Yay. But a friend caught wind of this little boondoggle and went nuclear, calling the local NH hotline and reading them the Riot Act (thanks, Deb), and then called me back to tell me to call them, and that they could move that appointment up if I was willing to go to another location. I did so, and sure enough I was quickly slated for my first vaccination two weeks later in Wolfeboro hospital, about an hour north of me. The hospital called some days later to get some more information, but everything was set. I showed up on the appointed day and time, and got my shot. Very nice, friendly and professional staff at that very rural hospital, by the way.
Anyway, on the spot the hospital scheduled me for my second appointment a month in the future, which I decided to just roll with. Bucking the system was probably not a productive thing to do at this point. When I got home, I went back on to the VAMS CDC website and cancelled the appointment I’d re-registered for after the first appointment fiasco; I didn’t want to hold up a time slot when everyone’s trying to get vaccinated. It became apparent quickly that the VAMS site wasn’t aware of my vaccination because I kept getting a stream of emails afterward saying I really should set a appointment. I ignored those. A month later my appointment for my second shot arrives, and I drive north again (a pleasant drive, actually), and happily get my second shot. So I am now fully vaccinated. (And by the way, they also had no idea what to do with the QR codes.) I got my vaccination card, and they sent me on my way. Yay again. When I get home I return to work (working from home), and discover an email from the VAMS site talking about my vaccination at the new location, and at first I thought it had finally caught up to the fact I’d used the NH system for appointments — but when I read closer, I realized VAMS had actually taken it upon itself to schedule a new appointment for my first shot, just coincidentally scheduled on the same day I actually received my second shot, bizarrely at the new location (that hospital in Wolfeboro) but hours later that same day. It has also, since, generated its own confirmation that I’ve received my first vaccination shot at the new appointment it had created (I had not) and taken upon itself to pester me to schedule my second shot for April 15 at the same location. It has generated a second vaccination card for me on its own, and keeps sending emails saying I need to schedule the second shot to complete the card. Oh — and it also keeps telling me I won’t be let in the door for appointments without that QR code.
So, I get it. The Federal and state governments were faced with a huge undertaking of having to get 330 million Americans vaccinated on the fly, so any nationwide system created in a month’s time is going to be….buggy. But… I would ignore all of this because the system (at least here in NH) worked; I am fully vaccinated. I just don’t want the VAMS site holding up time slots or vaccines for me. I have tried calling them but that is hopeless. I just emailed them. We’ll see.
On the plus side, despite the experiences of a few friends, I had absolutely no side effects from the Moderna vaccine, and in fact feel pretty good.
In the end, be well, and be kind —
March 15, 2021: Despite the fact it was 9 degrees this morning at 9.00 a.m., spring is coming. And not just because the calendar says so; a goose crapped on my car this weekend. Spring is coming.
We’ve had high winds for the past couple days, with really cold temps. But that, coupled with higher temperatures late last week eliminated most of our snow. I can see about 3/4 of my backyard now. It was nice to have all the windows open. OK, I admit it; I’m looking forward to spring.
Weird product shortages continue. Suddenly this past week you can’t get a popular juice, in any food store. It is, I think, a reminder that while New Hampshire hasn’t fared so badly with COVID-19 that elsewhere entire towns and businesses are shut down. My boss told me some horror stories out of Texas from this weekend. I see that Italy went back into mandatory shut-down yesterday; we all want this thing to be over, but it’s not. It’s just not.
Though she’s not Irish, my niece has requested a green pasta dinner for her birthday on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll be making some green pasta noodles tomorrow, and the pesto sauce — her specific request — has already been made.
An old neighbor lost his best friend (not to COVID, but to heart issues) a month ago, and we just learned that he also lost his sister at the same time but didn’t tell us because he didn’t want us to become involved with the wake or funeral because of COVID-19. Amazing times we live in.
I was in a meeting today at work that involved planning for conference events, and in discussions with some sponsors, the general consensus is that we won’t even be able to hold in-person events in the spring of 2022. Yikes.
Addendum: An update. So I last reported that my wife was notified that she had come into contact with someone who has subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. She ended up getting 2 tests done the next morning at our doctor’s clinic; one an immediate (but less reliable) test and the other which takes a few days for the results — both turned up negative. We’re fine. BUT, in the interim, beginning the night we were notified until the second tests results came back, we had to go through an exercise of tracing everywhere we’d been and whom we’d come into contact with since the Thursday before, when the exposure took place. Even with our non-existent social lives and pretty thin human contact, we had a sizeable list of people and businesses to notify if the tests came back positive. Scary stuff.
Be well —
March 7, 2021: A couple different things for today.
So, around 6.00 p.m. tonight my wife gets a text from her HR department saying she’s been exposed to COVID-19 as of last week, and needs to get tested. Yay! If we are positive, then we’re a-symptomatic, though I’ve been oddly light-headed the last few days. We will see. The plan is for her to get tested tomorrow. If she comes back negative, we’re good. If she comes back positive, I get tested. I wonder, if it turns out that 1. I test positive but display no symptoms, or 2. test positive with symptoms (hopefully mild), whether I should bother getting the second vaccine shot? When I cross that bridge (i.e., being confirmed positive), I’ll call the 211 information line. Looks like an especially socially isolated week awaits us. At least it’s supposed to hit 60 degrees mid-week, so maybe I’ll get some deck time (in the backyard) in.
In other news, Google Maps feels the need to email me monthly a map of my travels that month. It’s pretty thin. I’ll be getting an oil change soon for the first time since at least the summer if not the spring. Essentially, my travels mostly amount to me going to and from the food store. That’s about it. I feel like the proverbial little old lady from Pasadena who only drives to church on Sundays.
Two things about Zoom (or Webex, or whatever). I notice in meetings that people are looking around their monitors during meetings, either looking at other, non-meeting related stuff (a strong possibility), or the oddity of this software that we each see very different layouts. It’s sort of like watching the Brady Bunch, but the position of each Brady in their squares is different for each TV screen. It leads to odd conversational moments when you’re trying to establish eye contact, but the other person is looking at a different part of their screen. Secondly, in the beginning of all this, everyone in meetings cracked jokes about there suddenly being this visual element to meetings, impacting what clothes we wear on meeting days, how we behave in meetings, etc. But it was (at least in my company and with the people we interact with) more or less up to each person whether they wanted to turn their camera on. Increasingly, however, I have been hearing people say something like, “And so if everyone will turn their camera on, we can get this meeting started….” Is that a trend? I remember thinking back to the old Jetsons cartoons, even then, that there are times when a video phone really wouldn’t be welcome…
Be well —
March 4, 2021: Some signs spring may son be upon us, all experienced this week: 1. The chipmunks have moved back into the woodpile; 2. the squirrels seem more active in the yard, though it certainly isn’t warmer; and 3. when going food shopping after work, for the first time in months the sun was in my eyes.
There’ve been weird shortages of cat food recently. Why cat food? Are people (or cats) hoarding cat food? I went online and noted several articles about the problem. This was the first week in a long time when I saw disinfectant wipes but didn’t reflexively buy them. We’ve got enough.
Another friend, this one older, told me she had a reaction to the second Moderna vaccine. Yikes. It’s still better than being intubated (<<< the verb of 2021) with COVID-19, though, so….
It’s almost been a year since we began this thing, this pandemic. So much has happened, so many have died.
Be well —
February 22, 2021: A friend who has already gotten the second vaccine shot — the same type I’ll be getting — warned me that the second shot knocks you for a loop for a day or so with chills, stomach problems and a headache. Just in case, I’ve asked my wife to accompany me (again) for this shot, in case I need her to drive us home.
It turns out my sister has had COVID-19 for the past couple weeks. She told our father, who spilled the beans to me. I talked to her and she said it was like having the flu; unpleasant but not insurmountable. BUT — but — she said the worst part was the by now infamous mental fog, the inability to process information. She’s an elementary school teacher but even with remote teaching, she said she just couldn’t manage a class because her brain was so slow. (I cracked a joke to the effect of, “How could you tell?” accompanied by some age jokes — she’s older than me — but I only made those jokes because she’s already on the way to recovery).
In other COVID-19 news, a colleague in Finland informed us this a.m. that our project may hit some delays because her child was exposed at a daycare to COVID-19, and understandably she and her husband (and their 5 kids) are in panic mode at the moment, unsure what to expect.
With this post, I officially apologise to my neighbors for using the snowblower tonight at about 10.00. It snowed this afternoon until about 10.00 or so, and I went outside to assess the situation. We got 4-5 inches, but tomorrow is supposed to be unusually warm, in the 40s, and so rather than let it compact I attacked the driveway. In my defense, I did at first just use the shovel, but after about 10 or 15 minutes, I said F—- this, and got out old Gertrude. Again, I have to apologise for the noise at that time of night, but I will say it was oddly soothing and relaxing, meditative even, to be out alone, just clearing the driveway beneath a starry sky.
Yesterday I noticed — actually, we both did — that the washer in the basement sounded louder than usual in its spin cycle. Descending the stairs to investigate, I found myself enveloped in a white cloud that reeked of burning rubber. I immediately shut down the washer and unplugged it, and noted its top was quite hot to the touch. It seems it munched its own belt. A repairman is on the way later this week. It isn’t that old; I’m surprised to be having this issue.
Be well —
February 18, 2021: Finally got the first vaccination today. Had to drive north an hour to a small regional hospital, but they stabbed me, and it’s over. As is often the case in life, the actual medical part of the process lasted about 10 seconds. The rest — the hours — was waiting and bureaucracy. It wasn’t as bad as the experience in Concord, but lots of hurry-up-and-wait. They actually used plywood to isolate a part of the hospital especially for this. The staff were all pleasant and professional. After the shot, we had to wait 15 minutes in a waiting room (well, where else?) to make sure we didn’t have a reaction. This was a small farming community, and I was struck how poorly dressed some people were; I don’t mean in the fashion sense, but it was a sign of just how real rural poverty is. My wife asked if they were homeless. Old, tattered, torn clothes, one guy with winter boots almost separated in half by wear; it was both eye-opening and painful to see. Since this is the first vaccination group, most of these people were elderly. I’m not sure if that plays a role in their condition. Still…
On the way home we made the strategic error of deciding to stop for lunch. Actually, my wife very intelligently suggested calling our order ahead, but I declined, saying I preferred paying in cash. Well, the place we chose was directly across from the Concord vaccination site, and we were showing up in the lunch period, which meant we spent 40 minutes waiting behind platoons of National Guardsmen.
More snow on the way tomorrow. I’m totally fine with that. Bring it.
Be well —
February 14, 2021: Happy Valentines Day! Actually, usually this is Tax Day for us, but our tax guy has COVID-19, so we’re in flux as he recovers. Still, we had a tiramisu dessert tonight after an excellent dinner.
Yeah, I can’t believe they acquitted that chump, but there’s little point in whining about it. We knew they would choose party loyalty over actually thinking, so the outcome was preordained. I strongly suspect he’ll fade over the next few years, still influential at the base level in some parts of the country but with failing health, I think he’ll be less capable of holding his beloved rallies, and will fade over time. I’m not worried about him in 2022 or 2024, but unfortunately, he was just the nearest crazy in 2016 and I suspect his supporters will just rummage around for an ersatz crazy. Sensing this, already some are aggressively campaigning for the Lead Crazy position.
As a recreational shooter, I’ve been in limbo for months. Ever since Bozo the (former) president decided to contest the 2020 election, a growing number of my fellow Americans have become fearful of social unrest and they reversed a decades-long trend of falling gun purchases in a matter of two months. That means they have also been buying up any and all ammunition they can get their hands on, which means for months ammo shelves at gun shops have been utterly ransacked. All the major ammunition manufacturers’ CEOs have made videos on YouTube decrying conspiracy theories about the shortages and insisting they’re cranking it out as fast as they can. For a while it was mostly just the handgun calibers that were unavailable, but by the New Year, it was everything. I walked a few weeks ago through the largest local shop, and the ammo shelves were literally empty — completely empty. I had to attend a safety course some weeks ago because I’m switching shooting ranges, and in a packed classroom of 25 people, I was the only one who was an experienced shooter. Everyone else was brand-new, and had bought a gun because they’re scared. That’s a bad reason to buy a gun, in my humble opinion, but at least they were taking a safety course. Anyway, this weekend I was finally able to find some basic ammo — 25 rounds at $35, for ammo that in September, 2020 I bought 100 rounds for $45. I can’t wait until this craziness is over.
Be well —
February 9, 2021: Today my tax guy (actually, his sister) called me and told me he has COVID-19 — a mild case, so far — and our weekend appointment was cancelled. I wished him the best. What can you do otherwise?
So because of my Type II diabetes I was able to register for the first round of vaccines. My own doctor didn’t understand the process and he described an incorrect version of what was supposed to happen, but I called 211 and eventually got the right answer. I did manage to register successfully. However, days later I got an email from the site (VAMS) telling me my appointment had been cancelled, and that I would have to re-register. I called 211 again, and had to schedule a call-back, but the next day someone called me back — and told me that the email was a mistake, ignore it, and show up for the original appointment place and time. And so we did, a bit early in fact but the New Hampshire National Guard ran things like clockwork and we had to wait until my appointment time before we could even enter line. We finally were able to join the line, and we pulled up to a military tent — only to be told my name wasn’t on their list. I had been told by the VAMS website to have a QR code about my appointment handy and so I printed it out and handed it to the Guardsman, but he clearly had no idea what to do with it. I was sent home and told to re-register (again). I vented in frustration on FB on a friend’s post (on which he was bragging how smoothly the process went for him). His wife went nuclear and apparently called 211 on my behalf, and raised hell. She then sweetly called me and told me to call 211 again, that they now have a slot open for me. So instead of having to wait until mid-April for the next available round, I will (hopefully) be vaccinated in a few weeks. Thanks, Deb.
It seems the post-Christmas infection rate seems to be slowing down, but I read of some experts saying we should expect another wave in the spring — in part due to the Superbowl celebrations. Ugh. Our neighbors just had a baby, but we’re nervous about meeting her, for her own sake.
I was in the bank last week and while I was at the counter waiting for the teller to take care of my stuff (online what?), there was an older guy at the teller next to me. He apparently was a small business owner, because he had bundles of cash of various sizes, in paper cash holders and rubber bands, in a big pile. The teller was patiently going through all this stuff when he got to one pile. It should be mentioned that he had latex gloves on — not an unusual thing during a pandemic. But I began to realize that they were likely not because of COVID-19. He sternly advised the teller, a younger woman in the 30s, not to touch this one particular wad of cash (in a paper holder), saying that the customer who’d given it to him had amazingly bad body odor, and that this wad of cash reeked, stinking up his office. They’d even put it in the freezer over night to try to kill the smell, to no avail. He advised he teller to put something on her hands before touching it, or she’d regret it the rest of her day. At first she had an amused look on her face — we all did — but then a wave of concern came over her as she realized she was indeed going to have to touch this thing. I wasn’t able to stick around long enough to see how she resolved that issue. I’ll bet nothing in her training prepared her for that.
And the former president goes on trial for the second time in the Senate today. Ugh. Make it stop.
Be well, and kind —
February 1, 2021: An elderly friend has been having troubles getting a vaccination appointment, so we’re trying to help him. A big stumbling block is his own doctor, who isn’t taking responsibility for the registration part. My appointment is for the end of the week. We’ll see how that goes. No idea yet on the second vaccination date.
Anti-vaccers apparently shut down a vaccination center in California. We truly live in the age of stupid.
A large number of people at my wife’s work were sent home this week because one person tested positive, and this person ignored COVID-19 precautions and behaved like a social butterfly. Awesome.
It is the night of February 1 and the morning of February 2 — Groundhog Day. And we’re currently in the midst of a snowstorm. The house is groaning with the occasional heavy wind gusts. Tomorrow, I will be issuing expletives as I snowblow the driveway. Still, complaining aside, I prefer the snow. Love it, even. My boss (who lives in the South) asked me today if I’d be OK with the coming storm, and I just shrugged — it’s going to snow, like it has in the past, and like it will again in the future.
I was in a shop this weekend which had, as most shops do, a big sign out front demanding customers wear masks. Not a problem — I keep a box of masks in my glove compartment. But when I entered, I was confronted by a person with a spray bottle of disinfectant, and was asked to show my hands, which were prompted squirted. This much I expected, but then he asked that I undo one side of my mask and turn my head — which felt uncomfortably a bit like the classic “turn your head and cough, please.” There was a camera in the ceiling, and apparently some shoplifters have been leveraging masks to hide their identity. So enter the shop, and you must first allow your picture to be taken.
Be well —
January 24, 2021: I know three people who are burying relatives this week, two of them who died from COVID-19. To balance things out a bit, I also know one neighbor who just had their first child today. COVID-19 has created some moral quandaries. A friend’s father had other ailments but was visited by relatives in the hospital, one of whom had tested positive for COVID-19. The family chose not to tell hospital staff this because they feared the staff would then abandon their father to his fate. What would you do?
I had my annual checkup this past week (actually severely delayed because of COVID-19), and got a clean bill of health. As my doctor went down the list from my blood test, he’d shout: “Kidney functions — boring! Cholesterol – boring!,” etc. But, as I am borderline diabetic and overweight, I have been placed in the 1b group for vaccines. The medical clinic my GP belongs to signed me up, and I registered via them on the state website. It wasn’t as painful as all the experiences I’ve been reading about in other states, but New Hampshire has a small population. I set up an appointment in 2 weeks at a fairly local location.
On the shopping front, sanitizer wipes are suddenly abundant, but other odd shortages continue. There isn’t even the “1 per customer” rule anymore on the wipes, at least not at Marketbasket. Such extravagance! My cat’s favorite brand of food has gone completely AWOL in all local food stores, for instance. Luckily, he has a forgiving palate. Also, a favorite juice brand has been sporadically available the past few months, and when it’s out, it’s out in all local stores. Odd.
Be well —
January 19, 2021: So tomorrow, Joe Biden becomes president. I am excited, but am under no illusions about the craziness suddenly coming to an end. I never in a million years would have anticipated the shameful rioting in the Capitol a couple weeks ago, though while it was happening I had a sense of sad predictability. In other words, I wasn’t surprised. I have to admit I am also excited about Kamala Harris. She wasn’t my first pick in the primaries, but she is competent and compassionate. My hope is that the new administration will be able to make a noticeable dent in the COVID-19 crisis with a few months, and things begin returning slowly to normal over the summer. I suspect we’ll be wearing masks in public for some time as they’ve been doing in Asia for years now, but aside from some minor adjustments like that, I am hoping for a return to some level of normalcy — not so much for myself, but to just calm this feverish nation down a bit.
I just got notice I’m eligible for the vaccine, which will begin to be rolled out at the end of the week. Sign me up.
Upward and onward. Be well —
January 13, 2021: I was heading for the main entrance of the local food store this week when I realized others were converging as well. We all stopped, five of us, maybe 10 feet from one another, and stared. This was the product of just natural politeness — “No, you first.” — but of course, concern about COVID-19 as well. We all broke into laughter and somebody went first, and we all filed in. It was a welcome light moment in a crazy week.
An odd side effect of COVID-19 is that the tabs on top of canned vegetables have gone away. We need to break out the old can openers. I’m not sure why this is, an effect of production issues stemming from the pandemic, or what. I realized this tonight when I reached for a can in the pantry of baked beans and, encountering the tab, thought immediately to check the date to ensure it was still good. In my mind, it immediately registered as “old.”
The government stimulus check arrived yesterday. Sadly, instead of spending on new stuff we’re going to put it towards paying off the Christmas bills.
My wife was tested this week for COVID-19 just before a medical procedure, and tested negative — a relief. By inference, I take that to mean I’m also negative (for now). WMUR claimed tonight 1 in every 25 New Hampshirites has tested positive for COVID-19. I know it likely won’t be until late spring at the earliest, but the vaccine can’t come quick enough.
So the FBI has said that there have been threats of staging demonstrations and possibly violence in each state capital this weekend, including Concord — outside of which I live. Seriously, we’ve decided to devolve into a 1930s Banana Republic now? My tolerance for this idiocy is about over. I’m fine with differing opinions, and everybody has the crazy uncle who indulges in bizarre conspiracy theories; (a neighbor once regaled me about how aliens were stealing our gold), but our politics and society are being boiled down to the lowest common denominator. This nonsense has got to stop.
Be well, and be kind —
January 8, 2021: Holy crap, it’s the new year. 2021. And it has already been an awful year, at least this week. There are just some people so bound up in conspiracy theories and hatred that they are probably unreachable from the real world any longer. What a shameful thing to have to witness.
That sentiment aside, 2020 was actually a fairly good year for us. It was heart-wrenching to watch so many people suffering, but our jobs held out, and even became more interesting, and being stuck at home allowed me to focus on home projects. There are challenges, as always, but 2021 is looking promising — if the country doesn’t come unglued.
Odd consumer item shortages continue. For the life of me, we can’t find Swiffers anymore, those fluffy little soft brush thingies (with the disposable fluffy part) that are so convenient for dusting. Apparently, when they’re not rioting and destroying democratic institutions, my fellow Americans are obsessed with keeping their homes clean.
More and more folks we know have COVID-19, though thankfully, many are mild cases. Not all; some friends have reported the most challenging illness of their lives. A friend living in New York is terrified to go out. But at least vaccines are on the horizon. We are eager to line up.
Feeling the need to update my nerd credentials, I have ordered a telephoto lens for my….phone. A friend was able to take amazing pictures of wildlife in his backyard with his camera and lens — which cost $1,000. So I went the cheap route and bought a $40 attachable lens for my Android phone camera. I surely can expect precisely the same quality. Right? Well, hopefully it will at least be decent quality.
Be well, in these bizarre times —
December 29, 2020: I happened to be walking by the living room window tonight when I was amazed by a sight: The entire back yard was glowing. It was after midnight and there was a full moon, eerily illuminating the snow-covered backward in a beautiful way. I just had to stand there for some moments and soak it in.
Similarly, for the second time, as I was working this week a couple deer bolted past my window mid-day. I love where I live.
My niece, the older sister of my nephew who passed away earlier this year, came down with a high temperature today so everyone’s on pins and needles. She had a fever of 103 degrees this morning but her mom reports that after some ibuprofen, she was more active and was playing this evening. So we’re a little more relaxed. However, she was already in quarantine because a kid at her daycare tested positive for COVID-19, and her mom (my sister-in-law) is also very, very pregnant — bulging at the seams. (Clearly, I don’t think she’ll ever read this.) But her mom and dad are good parents and are taking all the necessary precautions. Still, you know — fingers crossed. We haven’t seen them in a month, and likely won’t for another month though they live just across the river. And it turn out I’ll be getting a new nephew in a month or so. As the self-appointed crazy uncle, it will be my job to teach him how to write his name in the snow.
To nobody’s surprise, it appears the Federal government’s plans for rolling out the vaccine were unrealistic and president-elect Biden said today that at the current rate it will take several years to vaccinate all Americans. I keep wondering how anybody sees anything credible in the current administration. My wife and I were surprised when some younger neighbors who just moved in visited (socially-distanced; she works in the medical industry) and announced they weren’t going to get vaccinated. After some awkward silence they clarified that they weren’t anti-vaccers but were concerned that the COVID-19 vaccines were rush-jobs and not properly vetted. I have to admit similar thoughts have crossed my mind, but we’ll be getting the vaccines. I don’t know when that will happen. I’m in a mildly elevated danger category as a tubby middle-aged guy and borderline diabetic, though otherwise my health is good. I read tonight about a 41 year old Congressman-elect in Louisiana who had announced a couple weeks ago he had tested positive — and he died today, in a hospital, of COVID-19. It is a reminder that this thing is deadly.
Be well, and be kind —
December 23, 2020: Almost Christmas Eve. Admittedly, the attempt at yard decorations just didn’t cut it. At least the neighbors have been polite. The problem was I didn’t have an electrical outlet up front so I had to get battery pack lights, but with the heavy snow, I couldn’t reach them to turn them on and off every night. So I hauled them in, and we’ll figure something out for them tomorrow. At least on the interior, we’ve gone into full decorating mode. A few years back we got these Chinese-made traditional window candles (battery operated) which have their own timer for turning themselves on and off. In past years their timers seemed to have failed them, but this year, so far so good. They actually look kind of pretty now.
A close friend’s father died of COVID-19 last week. It came on very suddenly. He was hospitalized for about a week and they had gotten to the stage of contemplating intubation when he passed. He was in his 80s. He was in Poland, and our friend (who lives in the U.S.) can’t go back for the funeral. Even if they let him into Poland, he wouldn’t be able to attend. In one of the more bizarre side-effects of COVID-19, his funeral was conducted online through some conferencing call program like Zoom (not sure which one). I’ve heard of one other funeral, here in the U.S., that similarly was forced to take place exclusively online.
Be well, and try to focus on the positive —
December 16, 2020: My wife turned to me and asked, “What was that noise?” Then another one blew in the oven, with a very dramatic FOOM! She took them out, and while she had her back turned, another blew. It went off like a landmine, like you see in the war movies with a landmine exploding on some beach. There was this mushroom-shaped plume that shot up to the ceiling, then fanned out and rained debris throughout the entire kitchen. I strongly suggested she put a dish towel over the rest until they cooled down. She did so, while cursing them out. The cat sought immediate cover. Another one exploded beneath the towel, but was contained. The inside of the oven was utterly coated, requiring a very thorough cleaning tonight.
In truth, we were both at fault. I saw them at the supermarket, was overcome with a wave of nostalgia, and grabbed a pound. In my defense, she had the same reaction when she saw them as we unpacked at home. The thing is, though we both grew up with them, we both completely forgot that they contain moisture, and can become explosive when heated. So a PSA: be sure to slit your chestnuts’ shells before roasting. Seriously; I was cleaning chestnut innards from my shoes completely on the other side of the kitchen.
A consulting group told me today they have to visit a client for a project for some stuff that can’t be done over Zoom, so essentially the team will be sequestered in a hotel for a month under quarantine for a one-day job: 2 weeks in the state they’re flying in to, and 2 weeks in their home state when they return.
Be well —
December 9, 2020: So this COVID-19 thing is serious again. New Hampshire hospitals are starting to worry about capacity again, for the first time since the spring. I know this is callous, but as I watch several hundred thousand of my fellow Americans die, I can’t help but shrug; how did we get to a point where politics trumped (no pun intended) reality, or common sense? People are suffering and dying because they, or others in their community, refuse to believe this is really happening. Historians will look back on us and wonder how we could have been so stupid. I try to marshal some sympathy for these people; they’re scared, cornered, and largely left behind by an economy that has shifted elsewhere. But so many of their current wounds are self-inflicted, and COVID-19 is the penultimate purgatory for stupidity and political rigidity.
My brother-in-law has had COVID-19, and by all accounts has completely recovered. He’s in his low 40s, and attributes his quick recovery to his being a triathlon athlete — but he says he put in a very miserable week, and hovered near requiring hospitalization at one point. His wife, my sister-in-law, is a medical professional and they take all the precautions, but there are no guarantees in life, just a sliding scale of risk.
I noticed in a tele-meeting today for work that people frequently do not make eye contact, and we have these conversations while looking out the window, or at something on the desk — but not at each other. I do the same; I’m guilty. I’m not sure why, but I noticed others doing it as well. A couple of us joked while waiting for others to join about the necessity of dressing appropriately for these calls — “business casual” — though we’ve been doing these meetings for years, but before COVID-19 (and Webex or Zoom or Google Meet, etc.) only on telephones, with no visuals. Now I know what a lot of people’s homes look like. (And of course, they know what my office looks like too.)
Be well —
December 1, 2020: You’re just driving along, minding your own business, and then one day you look down and realize the speedometer has turned over another year. My consolation for getting slightly grayer and crustier is this is the one day a year when my wife makes me (completely home-made, from scratch) lasagna, followed by cheese cake. It is affectionately known in our household, therefore, as Lasagna Day.
My wife’s work has had several outbreaks over the past couple weeks, but they’re an essential business and so they keep plugging along. Earlier this week she was feeling very achy and tired, and so of course we go into a panic. Because of an outbreak weeks ago she got a test then but it was an arduous process that took more than three hours. And then you just never hear back from them, which apparently is a good thing. (The paperwork tells you they’ll contact you only if you test positive.) My sister recently had herself tested in New York State, and they emailed her the full test results. My wife feels fine now. She has become an exercise nut, and her 40+ year old knees are starting to complain about it.
I love winter but today is almost 60 degrees outside, and I’m OK with this. Very pleasant, and I have all the windows open. Also, my neighbors each have nice Christmas displays in their front yards, and so I am working on mine. Nothing too complex, just a few lights arranged quaintly. This exercise brought to light (no pun intended) the fact I don’t have any electrical outlets on the front of the house, so battery-operated lights only — which look nice enough, but it means I have to go outside and turn each one on and off individually each day (and night).
Addendum: I stopped by the local food store to grab a few things (including, yes, some lasagna ingredients), when the older woman ahead of me in line at the cash register used an expression I haven’t heard since my father and his friends used it decades ago. Her cart was heaping full, and as she was unloading she looked at me and said, “Can you tell the eagle screamed this time?” Then she burst out laughing, and I along with her though as much from amazement at hearing this again as the funny moment. My father and his friends would ask when someone was opening their mail, “So does the eagle scream or does it sh*t?” (Scream = a check, sh*t = a bill.)
Be well —
November 15, 2020: This Saturday morning, with a renewed lockdown likely imminent, I headed for the local barber for a last hedge trim. The last few visits I was lucky and found him bored and alone, watching his little TV but this time there was someone in the chair and another person waiting outside in their car. (His place is too small to allow for customer waiting in the COVID-19 era.) It was a little chilly but otherwise typical November morning, so I opted to hang around and wait outside. It was a little awkward as his shop is flanked on both sides by two small antique shops, whose owners kept giving me “the look” for taking up space on their sidewalk without stopping in to buy something. But both were the upscale type of antique shops that have three dressers, a couple chairs, a few hats, some old ostrich feathers, and doilies. I need none of these things.
Nevertheless, while pacing on the sidewalk for 45 minutes, a few things did capture my attention. One was a house across the way which had likely been built in the very dearly 20th century and which once had a beautiful portico window on one side, but which subsequent (the current?) owners partially — only partially — covered with a modern, cheap, regular rectangular window. They didn’t take the portico window, glass or frame, out, just cut into it to make room for the new rectangular window.
After contemplating this for a few minutes, I also realized to my astonishment that this little mill town has the requisite 19th century bell tower on what was once the town hall (nowadays a pizzeria). And to my glee, I realized I would be present at noon, when that sizeable bell (maybe 3 feet high) would hopefully be rung. My excitement quickly turned to dismay, however. Oh, the bell was rung, but it was utterly devoid of any shred of charm that one might expect from a rural New England town bell heralding noon. As I mentioned a bell, maybe you heard in your mind the distant bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, or something along those lines. Well, quite frankly, our town bell sounded like someone clanging on a sewer pipe with a large wrench. Now, call me a romantic, but I hope our town kept the receipt for that bell.
In any event, the guy ahead of me was finally finished and after he paid, my barber went about studiously sanitizing any and all surfaces the previous guy could possibly have touched. I joked when I was allowed to enter that the guy must have licked everything in sight. We both had masks on, and as I’ve been going to this place for a couple years now, we chatted about each other’s family, etc. When my two or three hairs were cut, as I was reaching to pay he informed me he was obliged by state law to take my name and phone number for potential COVID-19 tracing, should the need arise. He had a log of all his customers he’d cut that day, and I joined their ranks in his records.
Because of the worsening news, I decided to forego a few stops I’d planned for the weekend, deciding to play it safe and just go home.
Tonight at dusk as I glanced out into the backyard, I noticed a lone deer grazing.
Be well —
November 12, 2020: Double scare in the Jankowski household. First, my wife’s boss was informed a couple days ago he was in a meeting with someone who has since tested positive for COVID-19. Whole teams were sent home, and both this poor guy and my wife scrambled to find free testing places. The thing is that this guy, my wife’s boss, has a wife who is in her 70s and just a month or so ago finished extreme chemo treatments for cancer, and so has a very compromised immune system, so this guy wouldn’t even be able to go home. He drove all over the state to find a testing facility, finally finding one in Portsmouth, and luckily has tested negative. My wife found one open in Concord but she had to wait for 3 hours in the parking lot (and wasn’t allowed to leave, or she’d lose her place in line), and she has to wait a few days for results. So far, we both feel fine.
The second came today when our state governor announced several new hotspots of where infected people went to public places and potentially spread this thing — and one of those spots he mentioned was in our town, at the polling station last Tuesday when we all voted. (OK, OK, so next year I’ll do a mail-in ballot.) Now, we showed up at 7.00 a.m., we socially distanced as much as was possible (it wasn’t always possible), and we wore masks and we both wear glasses. But, but, but, you just don’t know, so we are voluntarily staying away from my pregnant sister-in-law and our niece for two weeks. Grrrr.
My work had annual team meetings (virtually, obviously) this week and one person who until recently had been living in Philly but recently relocated to western Texas with her boyfriend reported hat when she goes to restaurants or supermarkets in her new home, nobody wears masks. There is just a special kind of stupid in places like that.
Be well, and wear a damned mask —
November 8, 2020: It is over. Finally. I am happy with who won, mind you, but the bigger thrill will be having slow news days where the media has nothing to talk about but puppies or the moon. It will be nice to have politics become a junkie sport again, rather than something that invades our daily lives with a horror show.
Weird shortages continue in supermarkets and in general. Cleaning wipes are still only sporadically available, and when they are, they are rationed. Until just a couple weeks ago, MarketBasket sanitized every cart before they gave it to you, but they’ve stopped — at a time when numbers are spiking nationally. My town is up to 22 new cases, up from 10 a week ago. WMUR reports that some of the spike in New Hampshire has been due to increased testing, but some of that spike is very real. For months, most of the new cases were elderly people in nursing homes but WMUR reports 25 new cases of kids under 18.
On another note, today at around noon I had to do some work (job-related stuff, that is) and it was in the mid-70s. I actually had the ceiling fan going a bit, and had a jug of ice water nearby all day. This is early November, in New Hampshire.
Be well —
November 5, 2020: Ugh, the presidential election is still undecided, with results still coming in. In truth, this is normal but it is so close that it is nail-biting. Congress looks like it will be mostly unchanged. What is clear is the mainstream media once again completely misread the U.S. population again just like in 2016, and once again overestimated the undecideds. I don’t know if the problem was incorrect sampling, or people venting frustration with their party/candidate during the campaigns but ultimately pulling the lever for their guy anyway in the voting booth, or what — but once again, so much talk of waves, a landslide, a total wash-out — and here we are having a nail-biting close call election, with the threat of litigation and conspiracy theories hanging over the outcome. We are on the crazy train.
Usually for lunch during the week I have rabbit food, with a small sprinkling of cheese. But once a week I get to have a sub. When I tried to call my usual place this week, I kept getting no answer. I wasn’t sure if they were really busy or, what, but something told me to check their FB page and sadly, sure enough — two waiting staff have been diagnosed as having COVID-19, so they are shut down and being thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. The last couple times I was in there getting my sandwich I noticed a lot of people not wearing masks. Who knew there would be consequences?
Be well —
October 30, 2020: Some friends from New York have filled me in on the restrictions still in place there — clearly far more strict than what we have here. We are definitely heading back into a second wave. The CDC predicted 400,000 Americans dead of COVID-19 by May — and most of that due to pure ignorance.
Tomorrow is trick-or-treat for the little beggars. I’ll wear a mask and rubber gloves. We’ve loaded up on candy. My decorations are going to be pitiful compared to the neighbor, but I feel duty-bound to put something up. How embarrassing.
For the second time, as the presidential election approaches next week, Walmart has announced it is removing guns and ammunition from its shelves out of fear of social unrest. Elections used to be boring, civil affairs, little more than a moment’s event as one darted out to the polling place in the morning or on lunch. Sometimes opposing sides would even trade joking jabs at one another, all in good humor. My father used to joke that when he and my mother went voting, they effectively canceled each other out. I was speaking to someone a few months back (or so) and though we both grew up in politically divided households, neither of us could ever recall a political argument. And now we fear social unrest over an election?
Be well, and be kind —
October 21, 2020: On a minor note, we’ve seen a sudden influx of Kennedy half-Dollar pieces showing up in the household over the past two weeks. The mystery was solved today; they come from the local food shop, which are giving them out as change. I got one today from them. And I saw a couple signs in another larger grocery store asking for exact change because there’s a COVID-19-inspired coin shortage. What odd times we live in.
Be well —
October 18, 2020: I am slain. Utterly defeated. I am out of my league. My neighbor’s Halloween display is just beyond anything I’m able (or willing) to do. So besides the half dozen or so home-made wooden caricatures (each about 4′ high) he has scattered across his front lawn, I glanced out my window last night to behold the 8′ high (seriously!) corn stalk man, topped with a pumpkin head (carved) accompanied by flashing colored lights simulating lightning on both sides of this thing. Then tonight as I was leaf-blowing out the garage, their family was wrapping orange blinking lights on the light post out front and the railings up to their porch.
My Halloween inventory includes two adult-sized plastic skeletons, a third (which is completely unrealistic), and a couple miniatures, a skeletal arm, a skeletal bird, and some stencils. (I thoroughly enjoyed a few years back purchasing one of the plastic skeletons when my wife told me to pick one up from a local store that was on post-Halloween sale, and I strapped it into the passenger seat of my car and left it there all night as I cruised about town running errands.) So in essence, whatever I come up with will be a pittance, but I gotta come up with something. Oddly, that skeletal bird may be the key; I’m thinking of a Poe theme.
A neighbor on the other side simply made some sheet ghosts and hung them from a tree on the corner of his property, and put some purple lights in his window. That’s more my speed.
A house much further up our hill has a very elaborate display, but he just purchased everything and displayed it on his front lawn as is. I have to have some originality in mine if I’m to have any credibility.
So we’ll see. I have to come up with something, and soon.
On other fronts, the virus seems to be raging back, with most states (including New Hampshire) seeing rising infection rates again. Luckily, we seem to be on the lower end of the scale, but it’s still happening. I’ve also got wind some companies have sensed trouble as well and have slowed or halted hiring, or are even going back into layoff mode. The long-feared second wave seems to be upon us.
Be well —
October 12, 2020: My neighbor was mowing his lawn yesterday, and he disappeared in a cloud of dust. In a Schadenfreude sort of way, this made me feel better because that’s been the case with my front lawn this entire year. But the drought has really taken a toll. I don’t care about the lawn. My maintenance routine is minimal at best. Droughts just scare me. When we lived in New Jersey a couple decades ago that state got hit with a severe drought that lasted most of the five years we lived there, and the state government was considering some extreme measures when the situation was saved by a stray hurricane that dumped 10″ of water on the state in a single day. Not hoping for that solution, but the rain from Hurricane Delta tomorrow will be welcome.
Most people wear masks nowadays, but I feel fatigue setting in, and with rising infection rates in several states this past week, I fear another major wave is coming. I, myself need to become more militant about cleaning surfaces again. Despite its previous good response, Europe is coming off the rails now and cases are spiking again. Hospitals are filling up. In a sense, I expected this to happen; the 1918 pandemic lasted from March, 1918 until December, 1919. It’s just that I irrationally hoped it wouldn’t.
The neighbors really went all out with their Halloween decorations so I’m feeling the pressure. Have to come up with something original. The kids could particularly use some fun this year.
Be well —
October 4, 2020: This weekend I cut the lawn (possibly for the last time this year) when about 2/3 of the way through, I took a break. I had a thermos filled with ice water waiting on the back steps, and made a beeline for it. I’m only sitting there a moment when I realized I was being yelled at — squawked at, actually. I looked up and a flock of turkeys had congregated about 20 feet from me, and were indignantly upbraiding me about something. My yard is on a path through the woods behind the house, and so turkeys and deer frequently pass through. Was I holding up their progress by cutting the lawn? I wonder if they were waiting in the woods while I was cutting, and only came out when they thought the coast was clear, but then got all riled up when they saw me sitting on the steps. In any event, we exchanged some unpleasantries and they continued on their way to my front yard, and beyond to I do not know where. My wife was working in the garage at the time and I tried to call her to alert her to the pilgrims, but she didn’t have her phone nearby. We had our neighbors over today, and they mentioned their dogs chased a flock of turkeys about the same time — 5.00 p.m.-ish — through their back yard. It was funny how upset they (the turkeys) were with me.
Things seem to be sliding back into lockdown mode. Now that the President has been confirmed as having COVID-19, a real fear seems to be gripping the country, and as infection numbers continue to rise in some states, despite resistance the reality is that some places need to remain closed. I was speaking with a friend about how restaurants, music venues and similar places will survive the winter. This is going to be tough.
Be well —
September 29, 2020: My neighbor has this amazing maple tree at the end of his driveway which is fairly inconspicuous most of the year, but its leaves turn the brightest red each fall — almost a neon red. When you come up our hill it is suddenly upon you, and on a sunny day it absolutely glows. I want to ask for a snippet from this tree to hopefully plant in my yard.
That said, while the colors are subdued in comparison to that maple, my backyard is becoming a wonderful palette as well. It is mostly yellows and soft oranges, and around 4.00-5.00 p.m. each evening now, it also takes on this other-worldly golden glow when the sun hits the yard just right.
The kids must be back in school. Each weekday afternoon around 3.00-ish, I notice a line of the orange school buses going down the street. I am not sure what the arrangements are, whether kids go only a few days each so that there’s enough room to socially distance. It is hard to believe because today it was about 80 degrees and humid, but winter is indeed coming and the kids will have to be crammed indoors with the windows closed. That’s just life in New England. Well, for whatever they’re doing, the local news reports most new outbreaks seem to be tied to colleges and not schools.
I belatedly realized that the shortage of sanitizing wipes and paper towels we are experiencing once again (after a respite over the summer) was likely due to schools reopening, and the need to constantly be cleaning surfaces. Meh — shower ’em down with DDT. Kids are little disease-carrying microbe incubators.
Be well —
September 20, 2020: Contemplated firing up the pellet stove tonight, with nighttime temperatures dipping into the 30s. I resisted because, well, expense, but the moment I hear the furnace kick on down in the basement, the stove is being lit. That said, it’s still pleasantly in the 60s during the day. I’m only seeing a little smattering of leaves turning here and there, with little hints of red and yellows. Truth is, with the drought I doubt there’ll be much in the way of dramatic foliage this fall. Some of our trees are quite frankly tinged brown, with dried, curled leaves. 2020 has kinda sucked for most of us. That hasn’t stopped the waves of leaf-peepers though; Route 93 northbound is a parking lot on Fridays and Saturday mornings, and the same for the southbound lane on Sundays. Well, I suppose people just need to get out of the house, and dead leaves are as good an excuse as any.
I got annoyed with Husqvarna today. Actually, I find I often am annoyed with Husqvarna when I use their equipment — but that’s a longer story. In the more immediate sense, I figured my summer-long procrastination of getting the snowblower ready for a new season had stretched on long enough, and so I went to change the oil on the snowblower I bought just before last winter. It worked great last year. But I decided to look online and watch a video before committing to the deed to see if there was anything unusual about how a Husqvarna machine goes through this procedure, but nope — pretty straight forward. So outside I go, only to discover my machine has a completely different configuration than what I watched in the video, though I was careful about making sure I got the model right. I knew where the oil pan was but couldn’t find the drain for the life of me, so back online I went, and discovered in a forum that the oil plug is beneath the oil pan, on the side, over the wheel, flush with the pan. (Back to the garage I went to confirm this.) Seriously, Husqvarna — is it that you hate your customers? I suspect some product engineers don’t actually use the crap they design. Anyway, on this forum one person helpfully suggested bending some cardboard and using it as a conduit to drain the oil out. Someone else posted a link to an after-market hose made exactly for this problem, and I ordered one. To be continued.
I read on the local news site that restaurants expect to take a hit now that outdoor dining is becoming less attractive, with cooler weather moving in. I know the governor has allowed indoor dining (albeit with reduced capacity), but I wonder if people are reluctant to get so close to others yet? While out running weekend errands yesterday I stopped in a place (new to us) and ordered some sandwiches for us for lunch, and noticed their fairly spacious dining room was still closed off, and they were operating strictly on a take-out basis. Not sure how widespread that is.
It seems Europe is in the throes of a second wave, and they are struggling with the same social tensions we are. We are living through scary times.
Be well —
September 15, 2020: My sister is a teacher in the Southwest, and reported some grim tidings. Poverty is a far bigger problem there than here, and the school situation is really having an impact on kids there. My sister’s school provides bagged day meals (breakfast-lunch-dinner) for students each day, to be picked up at the school, and also provides a bag for infant sibling — though not for adults. But this is only on school days, so she knows some kids are not eating anything on weekends. On holidays, that involuntary fasting stretches longer. She also reports that attendance was always a problem because poorer parents would often enlist their 5th or 6th grader to watch younger siblings while Mom and Dad go to work, but that the COVID-19 restrictions have made this worse as parents scrounge for income. Keeping kids engaged via Zoom is also difficult, but she says she finds herself spending a lot of time off school hours engaging with kids (5th and 6th graders) who are struggling with the emotional side effects of the COVID-19 crisis and are also dealing with the issues of being denied a social life with their peers, while also being left alone more by their parents. Finally, she struggles with parents who themselves were raised in poverty and who only see value in activities that directly translate into income, and who therefore see school as something that gets in the way of kids being able to contribute money to the family. They don’t make the connection between education and opportunity later in life — indeed, don’t spend any time thinking about the future, only dwelling on the necessities of the present. She sees an already deeply challenged group becoming a truly lost generation because of COVID-19, and she shutters to think of the consequences for them and the country in the years ahead.
COVID-19 is a special event, and nobody knows how we will emerge from this, but issues like poverty and education are solvable — if only we had the will. We certainly have, like no other country, the resources.
Be well —
September 13, 2020: I hate September 11. I hate what it stands for, at least in my mind — for the mindless cruelty we humans are capable of sinking to in the name of our tribe. I suppose that may be why I have such a strong, visceral reaction against people like Trump who can’t see past their own tribe, like ignorant peasants unable to comprehend the larger world. Each year, I hunker down and try to keep my head down low, avoiding public spaces (like Facebook) on the anniversary. I can’t take the memorials and documentaries. They are well-intended, I know, but quite frankly they just bring back too many ghosts. My wife has been to the memorial in New York, but I can’t go.
I was in Poland when it happened, visiting family. Among a host of family visits and duties, we had to move my sisters-in-law up to their college apartment in the north. I had never been to that city, and an old friend lived there, so I was granted reprieve from apartment cleaning duty to meet up and be shown around. I had gone into an internet cafe — ask Grandpa what that was — but the connection was horrible and I could just barely connect to my U.S. email account, and it kept timing out. I gave up when it was time to meet Monika, 2.30 p.m. local time — I know because a week later when I could access my email again, I found emails from friends and colleagues that arrived just minutes after I closed out (which was 8.30 a.m. New York time) announcing — no, screaming — what was happening. Monika told me that some plane had crashed into a tall building — the Empire State Building, maybe? — in New York. I’d overheard someone chatting about that as I’d left the cafe.
Rewind a week and a half earlier, and I was in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. I was head of our company’s North American data research department, and I was accompanying a sales guy on a client call. We had bounced all over Manhattan that day, and in fact earlier in the day we had been through the World Trade Center plaza and been accosted by Mike Bloomberg’s mayoral election team, who gave us a speech and a free Bloomberg radio (which I still have). I had never been up in the World Trade Center; I’d been through its base a gazillion times on the PATH train from New Jersey (where I lived), and had sauntered through the mini-mall down there with upscale shops. But this day was my first day going up in the towers. I didn’t realize I was supposed to bring special ID, but luckily I had some. (The salesman looked at me like a rural hick while I was fumbling for some ID, clearly unprepared.) In fact, I hadn’t anticipated the tight security, though I should have. My thought at the time was that all the security they were subjecting us to wouldn’t have done anything to stop the bombers who had tried to blow the towers up in 1993, and in my security card photo issued by the security desk, I am barely suppressing a laugh as they snapped my picture. (At that stage, the salesman was ready to murder me.)
So we got through security and went up to the 52nd floor to visit a start-up company, one of the early online trading networks, who were a client of ours. Their head of operations, an Australian guy, met us and took us through the office to their conference room. As we made our way through, I saw rows of mini-cubicles, each one housing at least two monitors with rivers of data flowing on them, and each one manned — so to speak – by an extremely attractive young person (both females and males), most listening to the latest, hippest tunes on expensive CD walkmans. (It was 2001.) I became acutely aware that I was already an old fogie, and that each of these young people probably made a lot more than my salary. In any event, we got to the conference room which had windows on all sides, and the discussion started. It was friendly. My job was to describe our research methodology and answer any questions, and clients typically appreciated such direct access to the analysts. This guy was no exception, and my sales guy began to calm down a bit and harbor fewer murder fantasies about me as this company’s ops guy was clearly pleased with our discussion. There came a point where the sales guy took over the conversation and I could focus elsewhere, namely the dozens and dozens of helicopters and small planes buzzing by the window. We were only on the 52nd floor, but there was an entire new dimension of New York I’d never seen before, this huge volume of tourist air traffic apparently constantly flying overhead. I was amazed by this, and thought of an event during World War II where a B-25 bomber being ferried by a lone pilot to some airfield crashed into the Empire State Building. I wondered if that had ever happened since, with all this air traffic.
Fast forward a week and a half to me standing next to Monika in Poland, and when she told me a plane had crashed into some building in New York, my thought was — it finally happened! I assumed it was one of those tourist planes. We spent the next few hours touring her home city, and then we reported to my sister-in-laws’ apartment, where we heard the full news. They had a small black & white TV on, and the Polish TV station was just replaying CNN with someone in the studio with shaky English trying to keep up with translating from English to Polish. The family was in dinner-making mode by that point so I was moving constantly between the kitchen and the living room, catching glimpses of what was happening on the little 9″ screen TV each time I passed by. At one point my wife announced the towers had collapsed but I dismissed this. The translator was, quite frankly, near-hysterical, almost shouting her translation, and I thought she was a bit over-the-top, and exaggerating things. I described for family members what had happened in 1993, how the bombers then thought it would just fall as well — but then I saw the images for myself. They had fallen. I can’t really describe the sickening feeling as I watched that happen, like something was compressed and collapsing in me just like the towers. This was 6.00 or 7.00 p.m. local time, noon or 1.00 p.m. New York time, hours after the worst had happened, but it was new to us. Some girl, a distant relative I’d just met, ran screaming up and down the apartment building stairway until someone calmed her down. (Admittedly, I wanted to punch her lights out.)
I didn’t sleep that night. I had a copy of David McCullough’s biography of John Adams with me, and I spent the night reading that, and the next several nights as well. When I tried to sleep, my mind kept wandering that office, seeing all those beautiful young people. Months later in November I would learn that everyone made it out of that office alive, but for the week or so after September 11, I didn’t know that and I had to fight to occupy my mind so it wouldn’t go back there. For a couple months after September 11 because offices were destroyed, servers were destroyed, records were destroyed, and even for those offices elsewhere in Manhattan far from the towers, access to the city was restricted — all of us in businesses like financial services heavily focused on New York spent months afterward trying to track down friends, former colleagues, contacts, clients, people we’d spoken with casually at events or in meetings, trying to find out who was OK, and who wasn’t. In fact, I would still be finding out about people years after September 11, including most recently just a couple years ago when an old colleague and I reconnected, and I learned he’d been working in one of the towers at the time, and had to do that infamous sprint we all saw on the news, of ash-covered people running for their lives up side streets, anywhere away from the towers. For I don’t remember how long afterward, people in our office would just break down crying. It just happened. Everyone knew someone who had died or lost someone.
Poles really took 9/11 to heart, and I was touched by the genuine sympathy and anger people expressed. On a few occasions it came out I was an American in some public place (like a gas station, at one point), and people were effusive with their sympathy. Some of it was a bit over the top like an anti-Arab diatribe one guy launched into, but overall, the feeling was of a shared tragedy.
September 11 was a Tuesday, and I had tickets to fly home the following Saturday. My wife was staying another week. I assumed the flight would be cancelled, but the airline (SAS, I think) told me to show up; nobody knew what was going to happen. They flew me to Copenhagen, where we were subjected to what then seemed like extreme security measures. I held things up because my wife had sent me home with a couple bags of Polish glass ornaments (27 ornaments total), and Danish security had to go through every single bauble, unscrewing the metal clasp on top of each ornament and inspecting them closely. We boarded the plane and waited on the runway, and finally the captain declared the United States had granted us permission to enter, and so off we went. Landing in Newark Airport was uneventful, though I noted the National Guard patrolled the place in full combat gear.
The next day, Sunday, I went for a walk around the small town we lived in in New Jersey, and came upon tow trucks removing cars from the parking lot of the local train station, which had a line into Penn Station. Someone remarked to me that these were the cars of people who were not coming back. I also don’t remember for how long afterward — weeks? months? a year? — you could see the pall of smoke and dust rising from where the towers had been on the horizon.
So that’s it. Not a very dramatic story. Indeed, just one more of millions of Americans’ stories about 9/11. But that day really haunts me, not because of my closeness to the towers or the events — again, millions of people used the PATH trains, and if you were in the corporate world in the New York area, you almost assuredly dealt with the towers back then. In fact, I stood out as a bit of a newbie by my age in not having been up in the towers yet. Our sales guy was incredulous when I said this was my first time. But just knowing so many people who were affected, and being surrounded by so many people who had extensive ties to people lost that day, and how that changed their lives; it’s an ugliness I hate to contemplate. Again, I see 9/11 as the epitome of the worst we humans are capable of. Yes, it brought out the best in a lot of people and we are right to celebrate them, and thank the gods for people like them, but, but, but, I can’t get past the original horror.
Be well, and be kind —
September 9, 2020: Tonight our writing group debated whether to return to Marion Gerrish yet or not. The nays seem to have won, for now. I think caution is the best strategy at this stage, especially given how many of us in this group are either in risky categories or are connected to people who are.
I’m proud that we’ve stuck together as a group, for the most part. True, there was a time back in the day when we considered splitting into subgroups because our then-burgeoning numbers made it difficult for us to fit into a single venue anymore. But the core has stuck together, and continues to do useful work, and really support one another as writers. Once, years back during a snow storm we attempted to do an online meeting but only three of us showed up, so I was nervous when we had to improvise as the COVID-19 crisis broke — but we adapted.
Manufacturing shortages are starting to become more apparent across the spectrum of products. I mention the ones I see in the supermarkets each week, but I am currently also trying to have some work done to a gun, and the smith is having trouble sourcing some parts. I went shooting last weekend and the store’s ammo shelves looked ransacked. Friends have told me about a growing shortage of some of the most commonly available ammunition. I suspect as the virus makes its way now through “red” states (where a lot of gun-related manufacturing takes place), these shortages will continue.
My work will be holding a team-wide online event later this fall, in place of our normal face-to-face meeting in New York. Business conferences and events scheduled for next summer are already being cancelled, and/or recreated as virtual events.
The squirrels are in nut-collecting mode in the yard, randomly burying them all over the place. Cycle of life.
Be well —
September 2, 2020: Apparently fall is here. I’ve heard geese flying overhead in formation, heading due south. Also, very oddly, for the past several days when I go out into the front yard, I’ve consistently seen bright red maple leaves, usually two or three, laying around on the driveway or walkway, clearly blown in from somewhere — but I don’t know where from. None of my trees are even beginning to turn yet, and as I scan the neighborhood I can’t see any that are. Are the neighborhood kids screwing with me?
Last week while food shopping I noticed they had Halloween candy displays out already. Seriously. My first thought is I want to go all-out this year decorating the house, but I wonder — will there be trick-or-treating this year? Man, what weird times we live in.
Speaking of which, I am noticing more shortages, or at least inventory problems when I go shopping, more so than just a month ago. I suppose this is natural; as food and product plants have been forced to shut down or operate at reduced capacity, and as transportation also takes some scheduling hits, sooner or later we would see the shortfalls in stores. Nothing too serious, more in the annoying stage at this point. Still, it is difficult to plan for the week when you go to the store and can’t count on a reliable supply of any particular item. Given that about a thousand people are still dying every day by COVID 19 in this country, my whining will be kept to a minimum. I’ll shut up and adjust. The stores try to paper this over by stacking shelves with whatever they do have, so for instance in the large section in the chemicals aisle where they used to have hand sanitizers and sanitizer wipes, they now have toilet paper. (Note the irony, given the toilet paper shortages back in March and April.)
Another sign it is fall: I wake up in the mornings recently completely refreshed. The past week has reminded me just how poorly I sleep in the summer, with its warm and humid nights. Give me a couple cool, dry nights and I’m slumbering like the proverbial baby, and feel great when I wake up, not groggy and disoriented. I am a Northern boy, built for the cold.
Be (and sleep) well —
August 30, 2020: I got reprimanded by an older guy in Shaw’s this week for going the wrong way in an aisle. Actually, I’d entered the correct way (following the arrows painted on the floor) but about mid-way, realized they didn’t have what I wanted and just came back the way I’d entered. I explained this to the guy but he was not impressed, and told me I was still going the wrong way. Quite frankly I wasn’t sure if those rules were still in place, given how much of the other March and April rules stores enacted had since either been rolled back or loosened. But in the end, while he annoyed the heck out of me, I must admit he was right. Dammit.
One of my favorite restaurants has finally announced they’ll be reopening in a few weeks, in September. I should clarify that strictly speaking, they are not my favorite restaurant, and in truth, most of their food is borderline awful. (We made the mistake of eating dinner there once.) BUT they make a great Italian sub sandwich, loaded with meats and veggies, which I treat myself to once a week. They are a local establishment, one of those small town places all the locals remember. I suspect in recent years they have been making most of their revenues from the bar, rather than the restaurant — and only recently did our governor green light indoor seating.
Last week it was in the low 90s and humid, but then some storms came through, and whammo — it’s fall. Dry and in the 70s during the day, and tonight it’ll dip into the 40s. One of my maples in the backyard is already changing. Mowed the lawn this evening, and barely broke a sweat.
Be well —
August 25, 2020: For the second time in a couple weeks, one of our group fell ill. (No, not from COVID-19.) I think we should all get booster shots.
Finally got some needed rain this past couple days. Not nearly enough, but we’ll take what we can get for now. It was fun having a couple thunderstorms boil on through. The downside is I’ll definitely have to mow the lawn this weekend.
Laconia Bike Week is apparently underway so the roads are filled with bikers — the usual; out-of-staters who are thrilled about not having to wear helmets for the first time. I await the usual accidents reports on WMUR. And word is they don’t like to wear masks either. Well, we’ll see.
As a colleague and I struggle with a looming deadline, she recommended to me a book on writing: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I’ll pick it up. She says Lamott coaches you to just get something, anything down on paper. That gives you something to work with. (My friend is suffering from writers’ block, which prompted our conversation this afternoon.)
She also brought up an interesting point, which is that as many companies may learn to adjust to a remote workforce, yet more expense is being pushed on workers as they have to now absorb the costs of what had been company office overhead: the office itself, utilities, computers, internet connection, other equipment like cameras for conference calls, and extra security software. In effect employees have to pay to work for a company by ponying up for all these services and equipment. Employment becomes more and more untenable.
Be well —
August 18, 2020: The kitchen sink is in a corner, and faces two windows looking out on the back yard and the treeline with our neighbor. But you can also look out across the Merrimack River valley. While doing dishes I’ve watched storms rolling in from the west. The thunder echoes when it gets to the valley over the river. I’ve come to rely on checking those windows for incoming rain, rather than WMUR.
Tonight I was doing dishes, looking hopefully for rain, when I was reminded of the woodchucks. They’d dug a hole right along my foundation (right below my kitchen windows, in fact). Action was required. Friends recommended a Havahart cage, and I was going to get one. I swear. But my neighbor and I were discussing the issue (since the woodchucks also cleaned out his lettuce), and he said they ignored his cages. That convinced me that perhaps a more…permanent solution was required. I sighted in my old .22, but had misgivings about using that in the backyard, not wanting to scare the neighbors. I talked it over with the lettuce-less neighbor and he was on board (“Just please don’t let the wife see it”), but I was hesitant about the neighbor on the other side. In the end I decided to buy an airgun, and so ordered one. It arrived after about a week — and we haven’t seen a single woodchuck since. Really. Not a one. My father quips that they must have got wind of Plan B.
At one point early in the woodchuck crisis, after reading online I bought a box of mothballs and poured the whole thing down their hole. That was supposed to drive them out, but one day I looked out the window to see one woodchuck staring at me from the hole entrance, literally standing on top of the pile of mothballs, apparently unfazed.
In any event, they are gone, for weeks now. And what remains, as I do dishes each evening, is the smell of mothballs wafting up from their hole that nearly makes my eyes water.
On another front, I came into my home office yesterday and my cat was laying on the open window sill, looking at me with a relaxed, content expression. But as I peered past him into the yard, I saw a flock of turkeys quietly trotting by, maybe a dozen or so, all eyeing me very warily. And my cat was utterly oblivious to all this.
Be well —
August 16, 2020: A couple days ago I stopped at a local Walmart, and found they’ve reinstated the strict controls they had back in March, but which had since been relaxed: everyone must wear a mask, only one entrance to the store is open and it is monitored by staff, only a certain number of people are allowed in the store at a time, and 6 feet distancing is strictly enforced. I don’t see New Hampshire infection or death numbers rising, but they certainly still are in California, Texas and Florida. I’ll admit I was non-plussed when I saw the new (old) restrictions at Walmart, but upon reflection, I’m glad they’re back. I’ve noticed how relaxed things have been becoming in stores. Everyone wants to get back to normal, I get it — but going too soon will just drag this whole thing out.
Individual towns across the state are beginning to mandate masks be worn outdoors now as well. I’ve turned off the feeds from so many friends on FB because of the rightwing ranting. I’ve been reading so many books recently by Republican authors about how they created this monster, this electorate that really believes it can vote on reality, and doesn’t have to accept any facts that contradict what they want to be true. We live in bizarre times.
At least, after another hot week in the 90s with high humidity, it is cool and pleasantly dry tonight.
Be well —
August 12, 2020: We have a wood pellet stove which is probably the most popular appliance in the house in winter. The cat drapes himself around it, and we’re not far behind. But one consequence of having a pellet stove is the need to continuously feed it small wooden pellets, and it’s cheaper to buy those in bulk. And so we make room each summer in our garage for two large one-ton pallets of wood pellets. After a while, you start piling up the wooden pallets, and while the first few are actually pretty useful, after a while they just start piling up and getting in the way. And so I made a few available for free on FB.
The response has been YOOGE. I took the ad down after just a day, but am still getting inquiries almost a week later. Some woman was the first to respond so she got the pallets. She showed up and picked up a couple, but left one. She contacted me later that night saying she just couldn’t fit the last one in her car, and would be back. That was a few days ago, and I poked her again tonight to see if she intended to pick up the last pallet, or should I reach out to one of the others who responded. She responded with an apology, saying one of her coworkers has come down with COVID-19 and she is now working double-time. She still wants the pallet, and would pick it up tomorrow, but for safety’s sake I can’t come out of my house.
My goal is to get rid of this pallet, so I’m fine with this arrangement, but it’s a statement about 2020.
Be well —
August 10, 2020: When entering my town from the south, you cross the river and then ascend a hill. Atop the hill, you are within town limits. (A sign informs you of this fact.) Right about there, after passing an old, dilapidated small engine repair place on the left, there’s an inconspicuous white house, probably early 20th century vintage. I probably would never have noticed that house, except for a couple things. Some months back, possibly late last year, actually — long before the whole COVID-19 thing — some moron decided to smoke in his car while transporting a couple oxygen tanks, and his adventure ended abruptly in front of that house. (He survived, walked away, in fact, though his car was literally leveled.) The other is more pleasant, as the family living there spray painted a simple wooden sign and erected it on the corner of their yard when the COVID-19 crisis began, outside a wooden fence facing the road as folks entered town. It reads simply, “Stay strong.” I saw it again this week as I drove by. What a nice gesture.
This heat and humidity are killing me. OK, I am whining; I admit it. But I can’t wait until winter.
Another COVID-19 era challenge presented itself this past week when I was in Staples. The good news is that everyone was wearing a mask and social distancing. The problem arose when a cashier suddenly had to sneeze and, facing a line of customers but confined within a small space herself, she had no good options. She sneezed into her mask, apologised to customers, then valiantly soldiered on. What else could she do? If nobody had been around, maybe sneezing into her elbow would have been an option, but even though we were all six feet apart, she was basically surrounded by people. It was an unpleasant decision, but she did the right thing. Hope she had a spare mask.
Be well —
August 5, 2020: And then four became three. That’s how my brother-in-law described their situation. My nephew is on everybody’s minds again because his birthday is coming up. I don’t know how my sister- and brother-in-law get out of bed every day. But they are seemingly doing just that. We spent Saturday morning at their place, playing with my niece. My wife has told me there are days when her sister just collapses — I understand that, completely. The fact that she gets up again is amazing to me.
My wife’s best friend is in forced isolation. Last Friday her company decided brilliantly to hold a mandatory meeting of about a dozen people with no masks in a very small room, so that people were shoulder-to-shoulder for a couple hours, and then on Monday it turned out one of the people in that meeting tested positively for COVID-19. She (my wife’s friend) is furious. First, she can’t see her beloved infant granddaughter for at least two weeks now. (She usually babysits her weekday evenings.) But almost as bad, her company may insist she and her coworkers all stay home for two weeks or more — without pay. So one of their senior managers pulls a stupid move, and the workers get double-slammed by both potentially being exposed to a deadly disease, as well as losing two weeks’ pay for all the trouble. Luckily, she is doing fine financially but some of her coworkers may not, and they’re getting punished for the company’s stupidity. Scott Adams was right; why is it always the morons in charge?
After a string of hot, humid days (including a major Caribbean tropical storm), tonight it is blissfully dry and cool, in the mid-50s. The window is open, a gentle breeze is caressing my peach fuzz on top, the peeper frogs are screaming for dates outside, an owl just hooted somewhere off in the woods… Life is good. I do enjoy summer, even some of the hot, humid days — but I need a break. I need cool. Tonight is cool. I look forward to cold.
Be well —
July 31, 3030: The mask-is-mandatory thing is spreading as more shops feel emboldened to demand customers wear masks. This is a good thing, but also indicative of fear. The news from elsewhere around the country is still horrific with Texas, Florida and Arizona each suffering record new levels of COVID-19 deaths almost every day this week. Here in New Hampshire the COVID-19 death rate seems to be at about 4-6 per week, with most of those still deriving from nursing homes. And the local news today says state officials are trying to track people down who ate at a very popular local steak place in Raymond, NH, The Tuckaway Tavern, because someone now known to be COVID-19 positive came into contact with the place.
In speaking to an elderly relative in North Carolina this week, she mentioned she had an acquaintance who recently died of COVID-19.
I’m in a period at work of intensive conference calls, but because everyone’s working from home now we’re obviously using Zoom or Webex or Google Hangouts, with the upshot being I am seeing how people I’ve known for years (virtually) look. These are colleagues, clients, and a wide range of professionals at companies in markets we research. I’m seeing them in casual clothes as well as getting a glimpse into their homes and home lives, including pets. Cats invading desks during meetings has become a common thing. (Milo, my resident feline, has obliged.)
The weather is mercifully drier recently, and a bit cooler at night. We’re supposed to get Hurricane (by the time it arrives here, Tropical Storm) Isaias in a few days, which I’m looking forward to — lotsa rain. We’ll take it. This summer has been too dry. However, I’ll have to do a review of storm drains and gutters this weekend.
Be well —
July 28, 2020: I admit to indulging in some Schadenfreude occasionally, but what the country is going through is just brutal. I recall a rightwing acquaintance some months back opining that New York city was suffering so much because of the state’s Democratic governor, but now that Red state America is bearing the brunt of the suffering, he is silent. I am hearing sorrowful stories out of Florida and Texas — and yet some still insist this is all a hoax. Amazing. Numbers seem to be steady here in New Hampshire, but I notice some nervousness creeping in as horrible news from other states filters in. Several shops like our local corner food store had, for months, a friendly request posted in the front window that patrons please consider wearing a mask and be considerate and maintain 6 feet social distancing; now, no more Mr. Nice Guy. I dropped in to grab a couple things a few days ago and there’s a sandwich board almost blocking the main entrance with the notice that from now on all patrons must wear masks and keep 6 feet distance from workers and each other. Good. Online I still hear grumbling from rightwing friends about commie masks, but so long as they wear them — they can believe whatever they want. One tried to strike a defiant tone by showing off a mask she’d purchased with an American eagle on front. Bravo! Just keep wearing it, please.
David Brooks’ column this week in the NY Times addresses “cancel culture” on both the political left and right, and he includes a video of himself wondering aloud about how modern American conservatism has drifted. He makes the point that a strain of the American right that wasn’t really conservative (though they love that label) but was more anti-leftist: it sees leftists as evil disrupters who have sullied the Garden of Eden (i.e., the U.S.), and he notes that Trump represents the spear point of that strain of rightwingers, who reject facts for emotion and invest more into hating the left than really being for anything on the right. These people now own the right wing of American politics, Brooks posits, and he wonders himself where someone like him fits in anymore — a guy who values Edmund Burke’s analysis of conservatism. I feel the same, like American politics is stuck using the terminology of the past when in reality we have completely left that world behind. Our economy, our society is totally different, and so are the problems we face today, and yet our hyper-vitriolic political rhetoric is still talking about industrial jobs and communism. Like Brooks, I don’t fit anywhere. I will likely vote Democrat because the Republican party has gone ape-sh** crazy, but long for someone with a brain in politics. When I list in my mind all the top issues I think we’re facing, I don’t see anybody talking about them. From the Democrats we get talk like it’s 1975, and from the Republicans, like it’s 1935, with occasional forays into 1855.
Be well, and hang in there —
July 24, 2020: Oddly, as the economy plummets further, my job situation seems to be improving. The powers that be seem to have decided I and my colleague can actually generate revenue, and so they’ve let us loose to do exactly that. It’s going to be a busy summer, but gladly, an employed one.
I noticed when food shopping this week that people seem less concerned about touching stuff. And I notice this in myself as well. There have been reports that COVID-19 is much less transferable on surfaces than previously thought, that it is much more reliant on air (breath) transmission. Just a couple months ago everyone wore gloves while shopping. It was mandatory at MarketBasket, for instance. They still have a stockboy spraying and cleaning the handles of carts as you enter the store, but aside from that, it’s tactile city in there. I used to be very conscious of everything I touched, trying to minimize contact with products both for my own sake and everyone else’s. But now I find myself picking up things and reading labels, occasionally putting them back like I did before the crisis. Mind you, I have a hand sanitizer in my car and every time I get in after being in some store, I splurp some in my hands and scrub them vigorously, then use the excess to clean off the part of the door handle and the steering wheel I may have touched. I’ve actually had that plastic bottle of hand sanitizer in my car for years because my wife is a germophobe, but have only recently started actually using it.
Despite my earlier fears about a relapse, it seems my fellow Granite Staters are largely heeding rules, wearing masks and social distancing.
One odd but predictable change since this whole COVID-19 thing started is the dramatic slowing of the importation of products from China. Part of that is due to the idiotic trade war we’re waging, but the virus is also apparently holding things up. So we’ve ordered a couple things, clothes and shoes-type stuff, and each one took more than a month to arrive. We would get emails saying the stuff was still sitting on a dock in San Diego. This is a concern because my laptop is giving indications that its natural life on this plane may be coming to an end. And those things are mostly made in China. Stay tuned.
Be well —
July 20, 2020: Final day of a heat wave, with temperatures and humidity both in the 90s. I’ve spent the last few days constantly sticky and in various degrees of moist. Tomorrow is supposed to bring some relief. I was probably pushing the envelope a bit when I tried to order wood pellets for the winter earlier this week. Seriously, is it fall yet? I am not built for this heat.
We spent tonight trying to see Comet Neowise outside, searching in vain around the Big Dipper. The problem is that north for us points directly toward the lights of Concord, which obliterate most stars (and comets). My wife got me a nice telescope when we first got married and I’ve only used it once. Tonight I resolved to reassemble it and start using it. When I was a kid in the Alleghenies, the night sky was utterly star-filled, and you could see the Milky Way. We used to lay on the hood of my father’s truck and count shooting stars.
A lady bug has fallen in love with my monitor (it’s night now), and keeps bouncing off it. This is driving my cat nuts, though he’s too lazy to actually attack her (him?). I’ll probably end up capturing her and tossing her out the back window.
More and more businesses here are requiring masks — a good sign.
Be well —
July 17, 2020: Just one freakin’ day after I take the car to a car wash, and some bird nails me. And it was when I was moving, because the grayish-white streak on my window is horizontal.
One advantage of a global economic collapse is that interest rates are in the basement, and that provides an opportunity for refinancing one’s mortgage. We got the ball rolling a month or so ago, and have been going through the usual bureaucratic hoops, but yesterday we finally got to signing day. This is the third time I’ve been through this, and each time I am baffled by the sheer volume of paperwork. And this time we only had to do half the usual paperwork, because we weren’t selling anything, just buying (again). The COVID-19 twist on all this was that unlike the prior occasions, we did not go to the title company; instead, they came to us. The deal was they would meet us in our driveway and we would do the mass-signing there, but since we had an outdoor porch in the back complete with table and chairs, they agreed to hike around back there. We wore masks and they wore masks, and the table kept us each about 6 feet apart. It took about a half hour. All in all, a bureaucratic experience, but as bureaucratic experiences go, not horrible. And life is now slightly cheaper!
Also had a plumber in today for a minor but annoying bathtub issue, which turned out to be more easily resolved than I thought. But he wore a full M95 mask the whole time.
Be well —
July 15, 2020: It appears my favorite sandwich place may not survive. They were supposed to open today, but they will remain closed. With the new rules for restaurants, they can’t seem to make the economics work. Truth is, I suspect most of their revenues come from their bar, which astoundingly has (had) middle aged guys sitting at it all day long, throughout the week. So the restaurant side was only a minor player in terms of income, and when even that was reduced to only about 50%, allowed outside, then I think the numbers just aren’t there for them.
Ever since I was diagnosed with diabetes a couple years back I meet with my doctor 2x per year, and also meet with a nutritionist. She has helped keep me on track with the right diet, though more through information that cajoling. She’s quite happy with my progress. My doctor managed to scare the hell out of me when I was diagnosed, so I do what I’m told. In any event, I got notice earlier this week I had an upcoming appointment with Sue, the nutritionist. Since I usually schedule these after my regular doctor appointments, and since COVID-19 has led to 3x postponements of those appointments with the doctor (so far this year), I assumed she wouldn’t want to see me yet. So when I got the text notice, I chose “2” for “Reschedule.” But a day later I got a call from the clinic saying that she would be calling me at x time. I sensed some desperation, and that indeed was the case, methinks. She told me that her clinic downsized nearly everyone in her building, and her hours were reduced, and now she only works by phone. The new term is “telemedicine.” So she called and we talked over my progress (she’s still happy), and she followed up with an email with all sorts of related resources and recipes. I like her and appreciate how she’s helped me turn my health around, so I hope she makes it. She is passionate about what she does, and really works with her patients. She is close to retirement but trying her best to remain relevant in a changing world. And she doesn’t think this will ever completely go away — this is how we live now.
Be well —
July 14, 2020: In retrospect, when your wife tells you to put on sun screen while you’re mowing the lawn, you probably ought to at least consider it. In my defense, I was wearing a ridiculous plastic-straw hat I once bought at the Brimfield Flea Market a couple years back when we were walking around baking our brains in the sun. But, that hat’s brims are minimal, and do not protect one’s neck and exposed shoulders. As it turns out.
A former game show host tweeted some idiot conspiracy theory about the COVID-19 being a CDC hoax, and he directly accused doctors — yes, your general practitioner — of lying to support the CDC. I know this kind of stupidity existed in 1918, but it is shocking to see just how disconnected from reality some people are. Seriously, it feels like the Scopes Monkey Trial people have risen from the grave to drag us back to the Middle Ages.
That said, despite my own complaints, I notice that some people are taking masks more seriously. Not as many as I wish did so, but a sizable number.
Be well —
July 12, 2020: A tropical storm that bounced up the U.S. coast from the Caribbean over the weekend reportedly — word chosen carefully there — led to the canceling of a presidential rally to be held in Portsmouth. However, a friend conspiratorially asserted the real reason was simply lack of local interest, so that “Agent Orange” (as she’s dubbed the president) declined to be seen in front of an anemic crowd so soon after the Tulsa fiasco. Say, conspiracy theories are fun. I should start my own television network.
This actually was a relief, not just for political reasons, but because quite frankly the thought of crowds of defiantly mask-less people congregating at some rally and shouting a lot in close proximity, then disbursing to their home communities across New Hampshire really did not thrill me. As the rest of the country is struggling with huge new cases and death rates, I am happy to keep this state off COVID-19’s radar, thank you.
My wife went for a walk recently and came upon a local elementary school. It was closed, as all schools are closed across the state (and country) currently. However, this one wasn’t just closed but sealed off with yellow crime scene tape. On one of the doors was a large sign warning: ASBESTOS. First of all, in this sense COVID-19 is actually a savior, keeping kids out of this school for a couple months now. And worse, this past year was the first of a plan consolidating several schools into this one building, so that from November until January the district had contractors feverishly making new accommodations for the big influx of new students to this school. They even built a couple temporary modular offices outside in the parking lot for administration. And in fact this had led to a significant upgrade for this school building in general — and nobody noticed or thought to test for asbestos? The building just doesn’t look old enough to have asbestos, but apparently it does. I just can’t wait to see what this will do to my taxes.
On the bright side, this past week I finally got my lawn mower back (more than 2 months after giving it to a repair shop) and my lawn looks civilized now. In fact, we are theorizing that the woodchucks may have moved out because I have this week removed (i.e., mowed) a lot of their grazing pastures. They seem to be AWOL. (Did they see me cleaning my .22?) Just to be sure, I have poured a box of mothballs down their hole, and will be sealing that permanently soon.
I notice local businesses are starting to get strict about masks. ‘Bout time.
Be well —
July 2, 2020: Today’s adventure involved a trip to the eye doctor — one of those appointments that you make months ago and then forget about, until one day you get a notice on your phone that you’re supposed to be somewhere. Else. Now.
By the way, do you like the drop-caps? WordPress just started offering that feature. Anyway, so we showed up (the wife and I), and we’re met at the door by a guy who turns out to be the doctor who is armed with one of those laser thermometers. Masks were mandatory, and everybody inside wore one. We’re interrogated about how we feel, and then handed the dreaded clipboards. Please fill out three pages about your medical history and insurance. Have you ever had sdkbfvqefihbqkjfhvgosis? Did your mother? My wife had the earlier appointment so she was allowed inside but I was asked to continue filling out my paperwork outside. That was fine, and I have to say they were very courteous about all this.
After some time I was called inside and the exam started. Modern technology is amazing. They had this thing I had to put my face into (with a metal framework) that essentially measured my prescription automatically. I was asked to stare at a picture of a straight road somewhere in the desert that converged onto a lighthouse in the distance. At first the scene was blurry but then it adjusted itself until the picture was crystal clear (for me), at which point a ring of blue lights lit up around my face. It did this three times (should I be snooty and say “thrice”?), once for each eye and then once for both combined.
The exam ended and I wandered over to their shop. I was still waiting for my wife and in any event, because I am a borderline diabetic I have to take a special test for the blood vessels in my eyes, which requires them to dilate my pupils (making me look like I’m on an LSD trip), a process that takes 15 minutes after they put in the drops. So I picked out a pair of frames I liked, contemplated all the bells & whistles that come with glasses nowadays, and was ready. The thing is that I was very circumspect about what frames I went with because the poor girl on the glasses counter has to spritz and clean every frame I touched. I tried on three pairs before settling on one, pretty much my age-old standard style. Essentially, I have been wearing the same frame design since 1985 or so. My fashion sense with glasses (or clothes, for that matter), is…limited. BUT, then my wife came over and she had to try on every single frame they had on display. That poor sales girl.
Luckily I had some sunglasses for the drive home, as the dilated eyes made it feel like every glint of sun from other cars and buildings was a knife into my retina. But we got home with no pile-up.
Be well —
July 1, 2020: Holy carp, it’s July already.
Anybody who thinks we humans are a rational species needs to spend some time with an ad agency. They figured out in the mid-20th century that we respond to marketing with our cerebellums, the most primordial, animalian part of our brains. And this, oddly, has led to a boom in the food coloring industry. Today, we think macaroni & cheese is a rich yellow, and our corn chips are a golden orange. Thank you, food coloring.
This extends to non-food products as well. Product manufacturers have performed all sorts of studies on how consumers (i.e., us) respond to packaging — color, shape, etc. This is why cleaning chemicals are often white, green or blue, because shoppers associate those colors with cleaning liquids. It’s chemicals; you can make ’em any color you want. Well, this all applies to dish washing soaps as well, of course.
Which brings us to today’s story. So, back in March when the COVID-19 shut-down first started, there really was a panic in food stores and people just hoarded whatever they could get their hands on, apparently believing civilization was over. This translated into me only being able to buy whatever was available, which was quite frankly thin pickin’s. Now, we go through a typical bottle of dish washing liquid maybe every month. As soon as the shutdown hit, my usual brand became unavailable. (In fact, it only just became available last week.) No biggee; my loyalty to any dish washing liquid brand is pretty thin anyway, and based more on habit than any real preference. So I just grabbed whatever was available back in March, and it tended to be this big, citrus-scented bright orange-colored stuff. It works fine. Each month, that’d be what was available in the local MarketBasket, and therefore that was the Jankowski’s preferred brand. One month, however, even that stuff wasn’t available, and in fact there was a single plastic bottle available on the shelf — a sickly, cloudy lime green-colored stuff purporting to be gentler on my hands. Fine — again, we can adapt.
I bought that one bottle, but the previous month’s orange dish washing stuff lasted longer than expected, so that I was able a month later to buy another bottle of the orange stuff. That green one sat in my kitchen cupboard for a couple months until just tonight, when I figured I might as well use it. By “use it,” I mean putting it into a large, transparent plastic holder designed for dish washing liquid with a large hand pump on top that sits on the corner of our kitchen sink. It’s convenient, and my wife prefers the regular brand dish washing bottles sit in the cupboard below with all the other kitchen chemicals. When I finished doing the dishes tonight, I noted this container on the sink was nearly empty, with just about a centimeter of liquid left in the bottom, so time for a re-fill. I reached down into the cupboard, and that’s when the decision to use that green bottle stuff came into play.
The upshot of all this is that I ended up mixing the sickly cloudy lime green-colored stuff into the citrus-scented bright orange-colored stuff, and the result is a plastic container of what now looks like teenage barf after their first alcohol experience now sitting on my kitchen sink.
Thank you, COVID-19.
Be well —
June 29, 2020: Inspired by John the Younger, haiku today:
Horny frogs at night
Belie woodchuck wars by day
The lettuce is gone
Be well —
June 28, 2020: Speaking on the phone (of course) with colleagues in New York and D.C. this past week, in downtime we discussed the relative adherence to COVID-19 restrictions and standards in our respective home areas. My New York colleague was stressing that while the wearing of masks indoors is almost 100% now, outdoors, on the street, it has been falling off. Of course, so long as people are 6 feet apart, that’s fine, but on a crowded New York street, Midtown, at lunch time, it is like a salmon fighting upstream and you are constantly coming into contact with other people — and sharing their air. My colleague in D.C. agreed that was worrying. He said that adherence there was actually very good and had improved in recent weeks, so that in stores maybe 90+% are wearing masks.
There was an audible gasp when I mentioned that here in New Hampshire, in my experience, it had been about 70-80% wearing masks in public just a couple weeks ago but that number has been slackening, so that this week in MarketBasket I’d say maybe 50-60% were wearing masks. You can sense this desire for this to be over, but it isn’t. It just isn’t. I want to eat in restaurants and go to museums and concerts too. But I can’t. We can’t. I continue wearing a mask (as does my wife) but by now we’re starting to get annoyed stares in public, like we’re reminding them of a bad dream.
On the positive side, I borrowed the neighbor’s lawn mower today — still haven;t gotten mine back from the repair shop — and knocked down the worst of the field in the back. Also, we’re finally getting some desperately-needed rain.
Be well —
June 22, 2020: Just a short one today. Yesterday we ran some errands in the a.m. and at one point I found myself in Walmart comparing the empty heavy-duty staple box in my hand to the ones on the Walmart shelves that apparently were made for staple guns with completely different measurements. The kid employee whom I asked for help was, of course, no help. “I don’t think they make this kind (Stanley 5/16″) anymore.” (I ordered them successfully online when I got home.)
But, while I was off being told my hand stapler can’t possibly exist, my wife had taken to wandering, and I knew I had some time on my hands. And so when the kid gave up on me, I meandered towards the gun department for an ammo refresh. When I got there it was abandoned (as it usually is), but there were absolutely no guns in the case and only maybe 10-15 boxes of ammo. That was unusual, and when some employee finally did wander over and help us out — another couple guys had accumulated too — we asked if Walmart was getting out of selling guns. The kid said that no, Walmart intended to continue selling guns, but because of the protests and unrest a store-wide policy had been enacted whereby all guns and most ammo was locked up in vaults in the back, in case of looting.
Be well —
June 20, 2020: So yesterday I attended a webinar, one which a colleague (who hung up after 10 minutes) dubbed the most unprofessional webinar she’s ever attended. It was on a dull, technical business subject but I am a nerd and find such things interesting.
Part of the problem was, as my colleague identified, simply due to incompetence. When you’re presenting a webinar — and I have to do so occasionally — you have to do at least one dry practice run to coordinate, make sure everyone knows how to use the system, make sure everyone knows their cues, and — maybe most importantly — everyone knows their material and the time window they have to work with. The classic presentation problem for webinars is that you write and create PowerPoint slides for what you think is 45 minutes’ worth of material, then The Day arrives, and you run through your presentation — and find you’re only 25 minutes into the webinar. That’s when the awkward, “Um, we’ll pause here to answer any questions listeners may have before moving on…” Then there’s a few uncomfortable moments of silence, and you’re forced to continue, maybe describing what you had for lunch today and trying to create a bridge analogy between that and your topic. So long story short: the people who did yesterday’s webinar clearly had put zero time into planning and preparing for the webinar. That became painfully evident.
But the mic issue was the second problem. They had managed to mute all the attendees’ microphones. After the “problems” started, I tried (as an attendee) to un-mute my mic to see if that was the problem, but I couldn’t. That means that they had successfully turned off all attendees’ mics, but had failed to do so for presenters, or at least coach them in staying quiet while others are presenting. We’re in COVID-19 lockdown and some presenter’s pre-adolescent kids were rough-housing in the background, enough to repeatedly disrupt the person trying to present. Then there were dogs barking. Then, reminiscent of a Leslie Nielsen film, someone wandered into their kitchen and very loudly began preparing their lunch (sounds of bowls clinking, the microwave running, silverware scraping the bowl as they stirred, etc.) while chatting with someone. And this went on for a good 15 minutes. The presenter speaking at the time repeatedly asked them to mute themselves or be quiet, but to no avail. He just valiantly forged on. But the best was yet to come, and actually saved them: They finally got to that point where the presenter had run out of material and was going into Q&A mode 10 minutes early, when instantly someone began blasting music — and I mean blasting. It wasn’t possible for the presenter to speak over the music. Without even attempting a “Thank you for attending,” etc., the webinar was just shut down. Our screens just went blank. Webinar over.
As most people still work remotely, the problems with kids and dogs will just be a part of business communications. Not much you can do about that. I attended an online conference event earlier this week where the CEO of a global corporation fielded questions from us analysts from his young daughter’s bedroom (a pink room bedecked with unicorns and ponies) because it was the quietest room in his house. Welcome to 2020. But seriously, some basic preparation and practice would have smoothed out most of the issues the webinar I attended had. Professionalism isn’t about wearing a suit and tie, it’s about taking the time and effort to do whatever it is you’re doing well.
On a completely unrelated note, I pre-ordered Bolton’s book today just because they tried to block it.
Be well —
June 17, 2020: I ordered lunch from a new place today (because I just found out my favorite place, which was shut down by state order when this all began, is apparently not hurting as much and announced it will leisurely reopen in a month, on July 15). Usually lunch on workdays is an exciting green, leafy salad — rabbit food — but once every week I get a sub from a local place. The new place wasn’t half bad, actually, though I still pine for my regular place to reopen. I am so utterly routine-driven, it is pathetic. In any event, I noticed they had a creative heart-shaped design taped on the floor to helpfully keep patrons socially distanced. Cute.
We — Write Free or Die — had another successful Webex meeting tonight, with Jennifer serving as this evening’s emcee, and she did a great job of putting a deck together and leading the group in discussion on writing tools. Well done. But afterward, it got me thinking about how this is the new normal. We as a group have adjusted well, though our numbers have dropped a bit. For our regular critique meetings we often packed ’em into the room at Marion Gerrish with nary a chair to spare, but now we typically have about a dozen or so, give or take — and that’s fine. I miss some of the folks who aren’t participating virtually but it is understandable why they might not try the online option. It isn’t the same as face-to-face, to be sure, and I miss our after-hours sessions in our (emphasis our) Corner Booth at Halligans. Sigh. But this is the reality we have now, and we are at least lucky that (as far as we can tell) no members have so far gotten sick, and all are healthy.
Still, this line of thought prompted me to go back in my email to the time when COVID-19 first became serious, and the debate we had back then. On March 14, Jeff sent an email announcing Marion Gerrish had closed for two weeks, and we (WFoD) were temporarily homeless. The popular thought back then was this COVID-19 thingy would blow over after two weeks, so we just had to hunker down for the duration. By early April things would be back to normal, and COVID-19 a mere blip in our memory. The group debated what to do next, with an obvious option being just meeting at Halligans (and get the drinking started early). The debate really went back and forth for a couple days, with a couple of folks arguing the need for caution, but for a time it seemed the group was leaning towards a Halligans meeting. (This exchange included, by the way, a Cornetto trilogy meme referencing The World’s End pub.) The point was made strongly that we are at our best and most effective as a group face-to-face. But on March 16 Halligans announced it too was closing, and within a day or so the state shut nearly everything down. We were presented with a fait accompli, if I may impress you momentarily with a French expression, and we began planning for our first virtual meeting to be held that Wednesday, March 18. After some experimentation with platforms, we’ve settled on Webex, and we have continued on with our work. It just strikes me how quaint we were back in March, not really realizing just how serious this thing was going to become. To be fair, a couple prescient voices in our group did try to warn us, but still — it is astonishing to me to see my mindset back in mid-March, compared to the life I accept as normal today. Indeed, I know that today I am among the lucky.
Well, thank the creative gods for this group.
Be well —
June 15, 2020: So the lockdown has officially ended, though with some caveats and restrictions. I haven’t been out today (the first post-lockdown day). Went to the local Verizon store over the weekend to sort out yet one more issue with my piece-of-crap phone, but the sign on the door declared nobody would be allowed inside without a mask. Not a problem; I had just stopped at a store and bought a box of masks and so both of us (my wife and I) were ready. We walked inside, and in this long, narrow store there were two groups of customers, an older and clearly technologically-challenged man on the right, and two guys in their thirties or so on the left. It was Saturday and there was only one store clerk, front and center at the desk. None of these people were wearing masks, not the customers nor the clerk. All of them were congregated within about ten square foot of floor space. My wife and I debated briefly and decided not to be mask nazis, but really — is it that the first wave wasn’t fun enough?
Speaking of buying the masks, it was like a drug deal. My wife had heard that Ocean State had masks, and we happened to be passing it, so we stopped. We looked around for a bit, then finally just asked an employee, who very coyly told us to just go to a register and ask. We got up to the front registers and asked a line manager who was directing customers to open registers, and she paused and clearly sized me up before directing us to a register. Do I look like a mask smuggler? Is this Orson Welles’ The Third Man? So we finally get to the cashier and she also kind of gives us the once-over, and finally goes to the customer service desk and comes back with a box of masks, which I purchase. Note that there was never a question about quantity; apparently it’s one-per-customer. All this is fine and understandable, I suppose, but there was an absurd cloak-and-dagger feel to this transaction.
Got my first (professional) hair cut in months Saturday morning. It was my usual guy,and I was glad he’s still open. He also seemed very appreciative that his old customers were coming back. He has this tiny little place, a traditional old barber shop with a single chair, and so now only the customer being worked on is allowed inside and must be wearing a mask. Saturday was a warm and sunny day so another guy didn’t seem to mind waiting outside while he worked on me. My wife has accompanied me on a few occasions for haircuts so this guy knows her well, and in fact they made a bet on a football game in the fall — she lost, and ended up baking cookies for him — and so he laughed when I told him about the hair shaving incident a month or so ago. It was good to have some semblance of normality.
On Saturday I met this woman, a friend-of-a-friend, who works at a large local hospital and we chatted a bit about COVID-19. She said things never got as bad in New Hampshire as we were all seeing elsewhere, that the hospital units mostly were able to manage the capacity issues. The worst hit, as the local news has been telling us, were the elderly, especially in nursing homes. She mentioned that some private nursing homes haven’t been able to take new patients for months and are on the financial brink. The problem isn’t state rules but simply fear: would you put your mom into a nursing home now, given the news? Anyway, she also mentioned that her hospital has created these service (and clinical) firewalls between units so that a patient can get treatment in the unit they need without coming into contact with any other units, for obvious reasons. I asked if she thought this was temporary, but she responded — as I suspected — that no, she thinks these changes will be permanent. I think that the model of a hospital, of this big, massive, one-stop-shop medical center with all sorts of specialties concentrated under one roof, is going away (or will at least be greatly diminished), giving way to smaller clinics. Maybe complementary or related units will remain connected, but I’m seeing a kind of Balkanization of medical services delivery, in part driven by cost but now also pushed by clinical need. I think I mentioned this earlier but Fareed Zakaria commented a few weeks back about how there’s been a sudden but big spike in recent years of diseases transferring from animals to humans — once a rare event, but becoming increasingly common. COVID-19 may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the new normal.
Did some belated planting this weekend, and got a lot of veggies in. I’m excited, but need to keep an eye on Mortimer, our resident yard woodchuck. If Mortimer decides to start munching on our garden, a basic conflict of interest may arise here that will require Adrian-style drastic action. We’ll see. I’ll be installing an anti-Mortimer plastic fence around the beans this week.
Meanwhile, my lawn mower is still at the repair shop, six weeks on. They had told me when I dropped it off that they were backed up and it would be a month, but that was on May 1. They called last week and said it needed a guard and it would take a few days for it to come in, but I’m still waiting now, 9 days on. I will call tomorrow. My yard looks like a field, despite having borrowed the neighbor’s mower a week ago to beat the backyard down a bit. In any event, my neighbor across the street who is semi-retired and pays an inordinate amount of attention to his immaculate lawn commented yesterday when I was out front watering flowers about how apparently we were letting our lawn go au naturale this year… We joked a bit and he laughed, but he clearly will be relieved when I finally my lawn back in order.
Finally, we apparently are on the verge of a drought. I hate droughts. Fear them. There was a severe one that lasted for the five years we lived in New Jersey, and it got to the point where the state was on the verge of implementing its emergency plan, which actually entailed asking people who had lived in the state for less than x years to move out. That experience really spooked me. We have some rain coming early next week; hoping for a good soaker.
Be well —
June 11, 2020: Did the usual weekly shopping today. For the most part supplies have settled down, and things are normal — except for a few things like Lysol wipes, which are still rationed. Wore a thin cloth mask while shopping, and it was much more comfortable than the cheapie paper ones I’ve been wearing while out. I keep a box of the paper ones in my glove compartment. I’ve mentioned this before, but masks remove an important element of social interaction in public places as people can’t see when I’m smiling to them.
So New Hampshire is not going to renew its stay-at-home orders, which expire in a few days on June 15. COVID-19 infection rates are skyrocketing elsewhere in the country, now in more rural regions, which are continuing to open businesses despite the obvious health impact. One commentator I read today noted that Americans apparently, just like with mass shootings, are willing to accept a certain death count in exchange for their carefully-guarded rights. And this is the nation that regards itself as more Christian than others, a Chosen People. Tonight I put Philip Glass’ “Koyaanisqatsi” on while doing some work.
Be well —
June 9, 2020: Talked to some neighbors today while out walking. They both work in healthcare, though as semi-retired. They do home physical therapy visits for people with special needs, and knock on wood, all the precautions they take (masks, gloves, goggles, etc.) have been effective so far. The woman has to drive anywhere in the state, so today she had to spend hours in the car traveling to towns in the three opposite corners of New Hampshire. But, as always, it’s a job, so nobody complains. She was venting with my wife about their anger at people who don’t wear masks in public.
Caught up with an old friend by phone. The news of my nephew is still filtering out, and people are just hearing about it. At least he had some positive news to counter, his son having just had his second child, a healthy daughter. He won’t be able to hold his new granddaughter for some time — months? maybe more? — because of COVID-19.
Getting some writing done, listening to good music, spent time with my wife watching the resident woodchucks in the back yard tonight. Also saw what may have been a firefly. In early June?
Be well —
June 6, 2020: Yesterday about midday I heard a cacophony of sirens coming through town. To my chagrin — though I can’t explain rationally why — my stomach churned when I realized they’d turned up my road. It’s odd, isn’t it; I knew my house wasn’t on fire but someone else’s was. It’s not like misfortune is a communicable disease. Anyway, it sounded like the entire town emergency response force was involved, and they were. It turns out that instead of a public graduation for high school seniors, the town got out all its fire and police vehicles and threw the kids a parade that went up and down every street in town (which took maximum about 30 minutes). My anxiety turned to relief, and laughter even. As people came out to see what the fuss was about, the firetrucks and police would rev their sirens. They were followed by a long train of students in decorated cars like a very cheap and rural Mardi Gras, who responded like a Baptist chorus to every siren with shouts and screams. All in all it was a lot of fun, and I’m glad the town got creative with this year’s graduating class. I wonder if they’ll have to do the same next year…
The past few days have been humid and I’m waiting for a string of thunder storms to wander through today, bringing both much-needed rain and a cool front. Bring it!
Today is Saturday and I went to the Concord farmer’s market, a nice diversion and excursion (diversionary excursion?). Mornings for me start as late as possible so I got there about a half hour before closing so it was a bit thinned out, but I still had some fun. I love farmer’s markets. I picked up a few things (e.g., eggs) but had a run-in with a woman I met once over the winter when the farmer’s market was indoors. She sells goat milk products — cheese, fudge, etc. When I was a kid in summers we would go to a small Southern Tier town called Springville where they had, Wednesdays and Saturdays, farmer’s auctions where you could find the most amazing stuff. BUT, this was also Amish country and on the street corner leading into town there were usually a couple Amish families selling stuff. One of them every week sold goat milk stuff — and it was God-awful. As I’m writing this I am cringing with the memory of the smell and the taste. You know how Limburger cheese smells so bad but when you try it, it actually can be pretty good? Goat-milk cheese and fudge are even more horrible than they smell. Well, fast-forward a few decades and my wife and I are wandering the Concord indoor farmers market some Saturday morning this past winter, when we come upon this stand with an older lady selling goat milk products. She offers some samples but I decline, and my wife — seeing the horror in my eyes — also declines. The woman became adamant that we try something, but I related my childhood experiences to her — and now she feels a challenge. She really starts pushing the stuff on us, insisting the Amish have no clue how to do it right, and that hers is delicious. We manage to escape, I think by crawling out an air duct or something. But as soon as I saw her this morning her eyes locked on to me. I had to suppress my body’s fight-or-flight impulses.
But I did escape, and did something I haven’t done for a couple months — just kinda strolled down Main Street. It was a sunny day and a lot of people were rambling around Main Street, and a lot of businesses were open. It was reassuring to see, though some didn’t have face masks. My favorite CD shop, Pitchfork Records, managed to survive and so I splurted some hand sanitizer on (available at their door) and donned a mask, and went in. It felt so comfortable to just browse albums, almost normal-like, except for the mask. I felt the need to support the business so I bought a couple albums, by Jerry Douglas and Funkadelic. I only recently discovered Funkadelic, an amazing Detroit guitarist with a real flair for writing songs. And, sadly, angrily, the message of racism (recorded in the late 60s) still resonates today. Why?
Had a good, long talk with my sister-in-law yesterday. She’s doing relatively well, all things considered, and is adjusting well. They cleaned out my nephew’s toys this week. I am a bit concerned because while she has reached out for help, per our recommendations — counseling, grief support groups, friends, us, etc. — her husband hasn’t. I often joke about how men are so ill equipped for emotions but there is some truth in that humor, and he is a dad who just buried his 2 year old son. He needs help. He and I have almost nothing in common outside he married my wife’s sister, and even for a guy, he has remarkably poor communication skills. He’s smart, just unsure how to engage people. I feel like I need to somehow reach out, but I don’t know how, or if he would respond anyway.
Be well —
June 3, 2020: My father hates starlings. He considers them rats with wings, stealing bird seed from more preferable birds like his favorite Baltimore Orioles. Starlings regularly get chased from the elaborate array of bird feeders in his yard — and, if I’m honest, given his well-honed marksmanship, some suffer worse fates. I have inherited his worldview in a lot of ways, and when I see starlings, my first thought is usually “junk birds.” But despite that, I like them. They do have a crow-like gang mentality and can be bullies, but that’s par for the course in the bird world. To me, they’re just birds, doing what birds do, and I’m happy to coexist with them. My backyard is filled with them now, as they methodically root through my lawn for seeds or bugs. I’ve always loved how their wings glint in the sun when they turn just right, revealing marbled glowing greens, purples and blues otherwise concealed in their drab-black.
My wife visits her sister every day now, and has been spending a lot of time with our niece. This has been positive for everybody. Old, frayed relationships are being rebuilt.
However, when communicating with some coworkers recently, my sister-in-law was infuriated when someone asked her, “You’re not bringing anyone from Poland into this country for the funeral, are you?” The question stemmed from COVID-19 fears. As if COVID was some illegal alien, brought in by dirty, rotten, stinkin’ foreigners. What an ignorant question.
I was in Londonderry this past weekend and noticed the town has, in lieu of graduation ceremonies (because of COVID-19), instead created flags for every graduating senior and hung them on telephone and utility poles around town. I had to take pictures of the kids of friends and send them congratulations. It was a creative solution.
In these crazy times, be well —
May 31, 2020: The funeral Friday was beautiful. The sun was shining, there was a nice, slight breeze, and though it was slightly humid, it was still comfortable. It wasn’t horrible to be standing outside in a full suit and tie. It started at the church, a nice little Catholic place up north (where the baby’s father’s family lives), with a simple service. Only 10 people were allowed in the church at a time, including the priest, a singer and an organ player. However, as I volunteered to be the odd one out for the family, the priest sent someone running after me in the parking lot and told me to come in anyway; the family needed me, as he said. We were all wearing masks, though the priest didn’t. (The funeral home director didn’t either, which annoyed the family.) While COVID-19 severely restricted who could attend, still, in the end I think it was better for my sister-in-law that she didn’t have to tend to and spend time accepting condolences from so many people; she and her husband were able to focus squarely on their own grief.
The priest scored major points in the mass by having taken the time to research the baby’s Polish name, and discuss its meaning. It was the only time I saw the family smile during the mass.
Her husband was mostly throughout the mass just trying to keep their 4 year old daughter occupied. An outside observer might not even have guessed that he was the father, as it was my sister-in-law who spent the entire mass just trying to keep it together. (She forged through a reading of a letter she wrote to her son. She is a stronger person than I.) But at the end when given a minute alone, he laid his hands on his son’s casket, his head hung, and his shoulders just started heaving up and down. He is a very private, aloof person, known well I suspect to only a handful of people on this Earth, and now he is in a private hell. Later, in the cemetery, though, I saw his salvation in his love for my sister-in-law. Yes, there is family he can turn to, but most importantly, they have each other. (I strongly suspect there are couples out there who don’t.)
The cemetery was very quaint, very rural northern New England. I put my hand on the shoulder of the father’s father, the baby’s grandfather, and he looked at me and said, “I bought these plots for the family, but I never thought I’d be using them to bury children.” His other son had died in his twenties a a decade or so ago; my nephew was being buried next to a pre-deceased uncle. This was a doubly hard day for the grandparents.
But the graveside service was touching. As mentioned the weather was friendly, and while I can’t recall what the priest read, it seemed fitting. We all had to wear masks, and stand 6 feet apart. It took only four pallbearers; the baby’s parents, the baby’s godfather, and myself. I was taken aback how light the casket was, and the entire walk from the hearse to the grave I kind of babbled to him in my mind about what was happening, why, and how loved he was. All the while I thought how ridiculous it was to do this, but I did it. I said goodbye.
Afterwards, at the grandparents’ house, we all relaxed and the mood was lighter — not exactly jovial, but steps above graveside demeanor. Everyone was going out of their way to be kind to one another, a welcome development.
There is this odd ritual among guys that played out on the grandparents’ back deck. Most men do not like dressing up formally, especially when it gets to the necktie stage. They complain about the tie, but I think their real problem is with the constraints on behavior (including even how they stand and sit) that accompany wearing a necktie. The tie is just a symbol of all this sudden, unwelcome heightened behavioral awareness. In any event, it is unclear to most men just when, after a formal event ends, that we can go back to normal behavioral patterns. Five minutes? An hour? The next day? And so it is a tremendous relief to us when someone provides direction. In our case, the grandfather, godfather and myself were just getting settled into seats on the back deck when the godfather loosened and removed his tie, and unbuttoned his top shirt button. Taking the cue, I did the same, and when he saw me the grandfather immediately nodded approvingly, even saying, “Ah, yes!” and followed suit. Formality was over.
That was Friday. The weekend since has been, in light of this past week, a fairly good weekend, spent keeping busy. It was a most welcomely a normal weekend. (I think I just invented a word there.) We ordered pizza one night. I had taken my very abused lawnmower to a local repair shop some weeks ago and haven’t gotten it back yet, and in the interim my back lawn has become a full-blown field. A kind neighbor lent us his lawnmower so I spent yesterday in classical man-versus-nature combat, re-carving out my yard. It was an all-day job involving the lawnmower, a weed-whacker, some sheers, a shovel, and at the end of the day, a hose. In compensation for my beating the crap out of his lawnmower, we got him and his kids a gift certificate for a local ice cream place. (I also returned his gas can full.)
As I’m writing this, I’m hearing my wife watching the news in the next room describing Boston as it joins Chicago and other cities descending into chaos. As we’re fighting to recreate a small island of normalcy, the world is going nuts. Every world order has those who want to disrupt, or even destroy it; those people now have the upper hand in our world.
In a world of crazies, try your best to be well —
May 26, 2020: The funeral will be later this week. The phones light up non-stop, as people hear the news and reach out. The past several days have been a flurry of picture sharing, anecdote swapping, planning, crying. And anger. Lots of anger.
The church will only allow ten people at a time, and nobody is allowed near the casket (because COVID-19 may be involved). Someone knowledgeable told us morticians often aren’t informed how a person died, so they have to treat every body as if it had COVID-19. I’m actually glad we’ll have to stay outside for the service, not because of the pandemic but I just don’t want to be stuck in a building for this. There will be masks, of course. I’ve gotten used to wearing them by now, sort of.
I won’t get into the details here but it is becoming more and more apparent that someone really screwed up. (Hence, the anger.) We have to wait a couple months for the full autopsy report to know for sure, but there is this creeping fear that his death was preventable, that the ER screwed up by sending him home three times on the same day. The preliminary report identified what went wrong that killed him, but wasn’t sure what may have caused it. COVID-19 is among the possibilities, as are some longer-term conditions that may have lurked beneath the surface (though if so then why they weren’t caught by his very regular visits to the pediatrician is an important question). But the universal reaction from friends (especially medical professionals) when they hear his story is: why didn’t they keep him overnight for observation? Why did they send him home repeatedly despite his symptoms?
We’re not medical professionals and shouldn’t second-guess them, but a little boy is dead. Our hope is that the state will be asking the same questions. In any event, we have a funeral and a family to tend to.
On the positive side, our relative in Chicago has fully recovered from COVID-19, despite his own lengthy health issues beforehand.
Be well —
May 21, 2020: My nephew, a beautiful, inquisitive, laughing boy less than two years old, passed away this morning. We’re not sure if it was COVID-19; there will be an autopsy. He had odd symptoms for a week or so and had been repeatedly to the pediatrician, including three times yesterday. The doctor didn’t think it was COVID-19, so he didn’t test for it. So we don’t know. When they tried to wake him this morning, he was blue. It has the hallmarks of the syndromes children infected with C-19 are described as suffering from in the news — but at this stage, we just don’t know.
I am an adult and supposed to understand death, but the idea that this lively little boy is now in a bag on a stainless steal table somewhere in a refrigerated room confounds me. I don’t understand death. I understand it biologically, but I can’t wrap my head around the reality I won’t be chasing him around my non-child-proofed living room anymore, stopping him from grabbing everything. I was going to be that uncle, the one who sneaked him out of his parents’ house when he was 14 years old and took him shooting. I’m watching the sun slowly set now, and I can’t believe it will never rise with him in this world again.
He is survived by his sister, who is a few years older. He was gregarious and went out and grabbed the world, she is more circumspect, preferring to wait and observe. He pretty much decided instantly that you were his best friend. I will have to work more with her. I’m going to have to play a bigger role going forward as uncle for her, I think.
So I got the call this morning from my wife telling me to immediately head for her sister’s place. There was a family dynamic at play, as always, but the entire ride there, I just kept wondering what I was going to do. I decided to do what I always do when I don’t know how to behave: I channeled my father. My Dad handled these kinds of situations well and knew how to comfort people. And so I pretended to be my Dad, and tried to somehow help this young family with a gaping hole in it cope for just a little bit. Hugging, sitting, crying, sharing some stories. They were like the proverbial deer in the headlights.
And so we move forward. On the plus side, this is pushing the family closer together again. I need to keep that momentum, and be the husband, brother-in-law and uncle everyone needs me to be.
Be well, and hug those closest to you —
May 20, 2020: A nice warm spring week and people — including this homo sapien – are enjoying it. I wonder if this will take some of the edge off quarantine angst. Saw a line at the local ice cream place at noon today when I ran out on some errands at lunch. Per the governor’s new direction this past weekend, some local restaurants have set up tables out in their parking lots. One erected a tent.
Also wondering if my barber is open.
If I may do some minor bragging, a teacher of a high school class at some private school in Los Angeles last week reached out, saying he was using my book in his class and his kids loved it. (He included a pic of each of them holding their copy of my book.) He asked if I would mind doing some Q&A with his kids, which happened Tuesday. These kids were actually very engaged and excited about history, and asked questions that I would have deemed sophisticated coming from an adult audience. They were asking about sources, modern politics and history, and research methodology — high school kids! It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I hooked a couple up with some experts in the fields they were writing their papers on. Afterward the teacher said they think I’m “like a basketball star.” I think that’s a compliment. It was a big gas to again see someone — a group of people — reading, enjoying and finding value in my book.
(One kid asked why I have a day job if I’ve already published a book, especially a history book. I told him he’ll never see a historian driving a Maserati.)
Be well —
May 17, 2020: Things had gone well the first time my wife cut my hair a couple weeks ago. I showed her how to adjust the clippers, sat in the bathroom with a towel draped around my neck, and even had some tissues handy just in case there was any…blood. But it all went fine, and both of us were pleased with the outcome. Heck, even John the Elder commented about it in one of our Wednesday night meetings (now online, sans Halligans).
Which is why today was such a…disappointment. I was positioned on the bathroom floor again, confident this would be a quick drill. She started on my neck and made a single stripe up the back of my head, when I realized that she had forgotten to put the adjustable trimming guard on. This meant she had shaved off a stripe of what little hair I had, straight up the back of my head. She spent a few moments trying to hide this by micro-trimming the hair on both sides of her stripe, but after some time it became clear the easiest path forward was simply to shave it all off. This means I am at a stage in my life where even peach fuzz is aspirational.
As she has reminded me since repeatedly, it will grow back, at least in the back and on the sides where I still have some functioning follicles. She has taken every opportunity today to let me know she likes this look.
It was warm enough (and not monsooning) today for us to enjoy our dinner out on the back porch. It was an extreme pleasure to just listen to the birds, and watch the sun set. However, one minor concern is that a critter cam has revealed we have a resident woodchuck. I think we had him last year as well, which would be good news, as he did not bother the vegetable gardens. I saw a woodchuck in the far backyard last year, and the critter cam caught him wandering back there again a week ago — but deployment of the cam on the back of the house this week revealed he is happily wandering up this close. I am concerned about a clash of interests once the garden goes in.
Still getting mixed, but better news about our relative. Seemingly his condition is improving.
Be well —
May 15, 2020: Our relative may go back on the ventilator. We’re getting some mixed signals, but we don’t want to press too hard — his poor wife is at wit’s end. There is a little voice in the back of my mind that suggests we ought to prepare for her to possibly end up living with us. Mentally, we’re kind of in contingency mode nowadays. We talked a bit tonight about having our nieces visit us, maybe around Christmas — a desperate hope and grasp for normalcy.
Something as simple as an oil change has become more complicated. My wife’s car was long passed due, so we called our regular local guy for an appointment. At first, all was normal but then he called back today and said one of his customers whom he’d recently serviced called back to say she now has tested positive for COVID-19, so he is going into isolation for two weeks. I’m grateful that he put our health before his financial need, but what a bizarre world. I thanked him for making the right decision.
Today we had a strong warm front come through pushing tropical, humid air, and it felt good. It didn’t last; a cold front followed quick on its heels, and we had thunderstorms and meteorological drama, but mostly the theatrical kind. Lotsa rain. I only very belatedly put the lawnmower in the shop a week or so ago for a tune-up, blade sharpening, etc., and they told me it might be as much as a month before I get it back. Ugh. I’m going to have a a full-blown field by then. Maybe I’ll hire some kid to cut it once. That said, I’ll take care of the snow blower myself, drain the gas tanks, etc., — soon, long before winter.
Be well —
May 14, 2020: Our relative has shown some improvement, but not as much as doctors would like. He seems to be out of the extreme danger zone, but is not seen as out of the woods yet. Yesterday he was off the ventilator and communicative, but today, pretty much unchanged. He’s had big health issues in the past which is generating a lot of concern. An old friend reached out today just to check up; it was a nice conversation. We keep planning some sort of backyard shindig when that sort of thing is possible, to have friends over and just have fun.
Growing up in New York, I inherited an automatic sales tax-calculating mechanism in my head that still kicks in occasionally, so that after a decade and a half living in New Hampshire, I can still be surprised at the check-out when there’s no tax on my purchase. Anyway, my brain tends to work that way. This was reflected yesterday when a sort of dashboard light in my head lit up in the morning informing me that I needed to make sure the car had enough gas for the usual Wednesday night WFoD writer’s group festivities. In COVID-19 2020, the more appropriate reaction was to make sure the laptop was charged.
About the only time I get out nowadays is when I go shopping, so I can report that today MarketBasket was well stocked, and people were a bit sullen but mostly polite, even occasionally friendly.
Be well —
May 12, 2020: This is a what-the-fuck post. So I reported back on May 1st that a relative of ours is a nurse who was attending to a patient who, when the visit was over, informed her she had tested positive for COVID-19. Why the f— would you still go out in public then? Anyway, to make the proverbial long story short, despite all precautions, this past weekend she (our relative) noticed her husband seemed a bit “off” one morning and took him to the local hospital to get tested. Today, just days later, he has double-pneumonia, is on a ventilator, and is fighting for his life. He has had respiratory problems in the past, and had a major health crisis some years back. He is now receiving some sort of experimental drug. She is not allowed to see him, and in fact she is self-isolating, given that she obviously is now a carrier. (They have adult kids, whom I think don’t live at home anymore.) Communications within the family are being controlled to limit panic.
So be well, but do the responsible thing, for f— sake.
May 9, 2020: Woke up to snow this morning. I knew that was coming, but later, at around noon, we got a snow squall. All the trees and plants are budding; hope they survive.
While food shopping this week at MarketBasket, noticed the meats were fairly well-stocked despite national fears of shortages as meat plants are forced to close. But, for some odd reason, the produce section was absolutely ransacked. No lettuce, only a few severely anemic peppers, no mushrooms, whole shelves empty. Glad to see Americans in quarantine are eating healthier, but what the hell — what’s with the panic shopping?
OK, I can confess now. I am a hoarder. And I don’t mean books. Well, I hoard those too, but that’s for another blog. While at MarketBasket I thought while strolling down the paper aisle that maybe I ought to get some paper towels. So I grabbed 4 of the cheapies. But when I got home I realized we already had some in the usual space upstairs, but no problem — I’ll just put them downstairs near the laundry stuff, as overflow. When I got downstairs I realized I’d apparently already done this recently, as there were 8 rolls already dutifully stored.
Saw a drive-through church today, which for some reason struck me as hilarious. I roared laughing all the way down Route 106.
We — my wife and I — were in the middle of some store today when I complained about the damned face mask fogging my glasses. I read somewhere that this was a sign of dirty glasses, and that properly cleaning said glasses will resolve the issue, but that turned out to be a load of horse s*** as I was once again fighting with fogged glasses in a store, trying not to bump into people because I just couldn’t see. But in the midst of my tirade on the subject of fogged glasses, my wife reached over and pinched the nose of my disposable mask, which closed off the access point for my breath — and lo! My glasses stopped fogging. Who knew? She wears these things all the time at work. I don’t.
A woman in a local town group on Facebook let it be known she was selling fresh farm eggs, and so I contacted her. My schedule was difficult this week but we kept trying to meet, unsuccessfully. Finally yesterday I let her know I could meet somewhere but she insisted on coming to my home to deliver. She showed up with kids in tow — I suspect her huge, 6 foot+teenage son sitting in the passenger seat was security — and we completed the transaction. We love farm eggs so we were pleased, but I have to admit there was a feel of desperation in the sale. I may be imagining, but it seemed like an unemployed person desperate for income, any income.
And it is full-blown snowing outside now, at 4.00 p.m. in the afternoon. Kinda pretty, actually.
Be well —
May 6, 2020: While on a conference line with work colleagues waiting for people to join, several who were based in New York commented that New Yorkers have tossed open container laws out the window, and people are wandering the streets now with open beer cans, liquor bottles, even Margaritas. New York has descended into a party.
Be well —
May 5, 2020: I was thinking today about the difference between the people I see on the news (who infuriate me) and the people I encounter around here, both my neighbors and the folks I meet when shopping (who inspire me). In Group A, we see a bunch of knuckle-dragging reactionaries who blame what is essentially a biological event on some bogeyman. Our news, which is, after all, a business that chases profits and is therefore incentivized to sensationalize its content, has been shoving cameras and microphones in front of these people — and they are sensational, and infuriating. But I think — I hope — they are a tiny minority. Shields & Brooks have been citing polls claiming the majority of Americans support the restrictions, or at least understand them. I am sympathetic to the plight of people who have lost jobs and desperately want things to go back to normal, but they seem to blame the gubmint or Liberals or (in today’s news — medical experts) for somehow causing all this, and that is just rank stupidity. In any event, the post-COVID-19 normal is not going to look anything like the pre-COVID-19 normal. We, society, and the economy have been profoundly changed. Any thoughts of things snapping back like an elastic band to the January, 2020 normal in a month or so is pure fantasy. Just from an economic perspective, I can see this will take years to recover.
I saw an interview with a woman whose husband watched Fox News and believed COVID-19 to be a hoax and so he refused to take any precautions, and he ended up catching the virus and dying. In this interview the distraught woman still blamed “the liberal media” for over-hyping COVID-19, compelling the truth-tellers like Fox News [sic] to downplay COVID-19’s impact, and thereby convincing her husband to disregard safety measures. This kind of mental acrobatics is astonishing.
But while she is sadly news, I suspect increasingly she is not the norm. Maybe it’s a regional thing, I don’t know, but the people I’m meeting on the street seem to be fully accepting of our situation, and are doing their part. Most are still in fairly good humor, joking about things, and most importantly are respectful of one another. I know some locals who are Fox News (or worse) followers, but while occasionally making wry jokes, even they are playing along and seem to be taking this seriously. My point is the national news I’m seeing (e.g., ABC, NBC, etc.) are constantly putting the crazies on the nightly news, while paying less attention to the majority of us who are doing the right things. It sends a message of lunacy, when only a small minority are trying to storm state houses with guns. Most of us are intelligent enough to understand a haircut can wait. Lives are more important.
Be well —
May 3, 2020: Had a chat with my sister-in-law in Poland today, who works in a local hospital. Generally, though she abhors the current government there (as do I), she says they did a good job with an immediate lock down, so that new cases have leveled off and the government is contemplating some measures for opening stuff. In Poland, the Church is all-powerful, almost like in medieval times, and she was complaining about how they were granted exemptions from social distancing rules — and now the last remaining outposts of new infections are Church institutions. In the hospital she said they’re seeing a huge uptick in alcoholism-related injuries, as well as domestic abuse. Aside from the actual injuries they incur, the drunks are problematic because they don’t observe social distancing rules, often then posing a double-danger to staff. She described some neighbors who pooh-poohed the whole coronavirus threat until they saw people dropping, and they were suddenly converted and became ultra-hyper-careful. While it’s just anecdotal, based on my conversation with her it seems like the whole quarantine has been taken more seriously in Poland than here. This is reinforced by a blog post written this past week written by a British banking analyst I follow who is married to a Pole and lives in Poland, and he mentioned being initially outraged by the tight restrictions Poland put in place very early on — but changed his mind after he saw the chaos unfolding in the UK and the US with the half-measures both enacted.
Also, apparently my nieces spoke extensively with my wife earlier this morning on Skype and helped her go through her closet, helping Ciocia/Auntie decide what to ditch and what to keep. They have now volunteered to lend their fashion expertise to my wardrobe.
Today was a gorgeous spring day and we spent some quality time in the yard and just bopping around the house, getting things done here and there but basically living like it was a Sunday. Because, you know, it was.
Be well —
May 2, 2020: The local gas station used to sell the most amazing chocolate chip cookies, made locally by somebody. It got so that any time I needed gas, I made a beeline for this place, just to get a cookie. (I guess the cookies did their job as far as the gas station owners were concerned.) I say “used to,” because now in the little basket by the register where they used to be, they sell face masks. I looked around but could find no trace of my beloved cookies. My wife had told me they were selling masks now — the quarantine has put a big dent in my driving, so that today was the first day in a month I needed to stop for gas — and she wanted me to pick up a pack. But I didn’t realize the masks would be supplanting those wonderful cookies. So I bought some masks with my gas, looking like a kid being tugged away from the candy store window.
I actually did have a good day, but on the way home on Route 93 I remembered the cookies and was feeling sorry for myself, when a big bug hit the windshield. And I thought, “OK, my day isn’t going that bad.”
Be well —
May 1, 2020: We have a lot of friends who work in healthcare in various capacities. This ranges from older, retired professionals to one friend who just got his RN license last year. So today we got news that two of them have been exposed to COVID-19, though I think both are at this point a-symptomatic. In one case, a younger child is involved so they’ve taken steps, shipping the teenage child off to the grandparents while they isolate themselves for two weeks. It’s more complicated that that; the woman in question is living financially on the edge, and can’t afford to stop working. It’s selfish, but on the other hand, she’s worried about being able to keep roof overhead and feed her family. She hasn’t been tested herself yet — that’s in the works — but her idiot daughter has (and has tested positive), after she was irresponsible and repeatedly went into public places without taking precautions. In the other case there are no young children involved but still, they have to lock themselves up for two weeks. This latter case was the result of a patient who waited until after a visit was over to inform our relative, a nurse, they had tested positive.
Friends are asking for face masks so we’re giving some of ours to them, and trying to buy more through the online networks for our old, elderly neighbors. I think one guy next to whom we lived until last year hasn’t left his home in a month or more. He’s terrified. My wife does his shopping each week, taking a list over the phone and delivering to his front porch and leaving the groceries there. He waits until she’s gone to bring them in.
I am going to rant again about the idiots in Michigan who are protesting, storming the state house and brandishing Confederate flags and guns. (Imagine a crowd of blacks doing the same, storming into a state house with Black Panther flags and guns. How do you think that would end? Would the President be calling them good folks?) Nobody knows how we’ll reopen the economy and everyone has the right to be concerned and voice their opinion on that process, but this kind of irresponsible behavior is just dangerous political theater — and shows a complete disregard for their fellow citizens. It isn’t bad enough we’re going through this, and now we have to put up with intimidation and demonization as well?
Be well —
April 29, 2020: Grabbed some more face masks today, from a local woman. She refused to take any money for them. She hand-made them. Crises like this bring out the best in some people, the worst in others, as I am learning. I think this summer if/when restrictions are loosened somewhat, we’ll bake her something.
A coworker revealed today that he is working 16 hour days regularly. Most of his colleagues on his team were laid off a couple weeks back, and he is frantic about keeping his job. I am seeing more like him, people who feel like cornered animals. The consulting firms are starting to come alive again after a month of shocks, and the thought leadership they’re pushing emphasizes how this crisis will likely lead to a tsunami of automation, so that a lot of those furloughed jobs are going to simply go away. This shouldn’t be shocking; there have been analysts and others talking about this day for years now. COVID-19 is just accelerating what was already underway. When we say “automation” today, many picture factories where robot arms do the work humans used to do, but modern automation is really in the form of software that replaces white collar jobs (like mine). The industrial revolution created the idea of compensation, that a worker does something for an employer and is compensated for it. That relationship is going away, and there will be going forward a growing mass of under-educated, under-skilled, unemployable people who have memories of once being useful — as well as once having earned middle class lifestyles. There is a side of me that recognizes this is just change, and it just requires a pivot on our part, a reorientation to acknowledge and accommodate the new. But I also know we don’t do change very well, especially on this scale, and our current politics and economic debates are stuck in 1970. That leaves a lot of disaffected, marginalized, angry people. Gonna be a fun decade.
Be well —
April 28, 2020: It has rained for the past couple days, hard at times, and so it was a very pleasant surprise when I went to the kitchen window this evening at dusk and caught a glimpse of the sun peaking out over the clouds, but just as it was disappearing beneath the horizon. This created a golden glow effect on the very tops of the trees in the backyard as they caught this brief glint of sunshine. It was somehow life-affirming. It’s odd how we humans are wired for this sort of thing, but I am grateful for the ability to see beauty.
Saturday was a wonderful watershed, the ability to get out and be social (kinda-sorta, from the safety of our car). About the only times otherwise I have actual contact with people I’m not married to is when I’m shopping. And that happens once a week.
Speaking of which, my wife mentioned that she berated some woman in the local Shaws for not following the direction arrows on the floor, going against traffic in an aisle. I just sat quietly and listened as she expressed her outrage that this cow-of-a-woman couldn’t follow basic directions — quiet because I have pretty much ignored those directional arrows on the floor myself. I vaguely became aware they were there a week or so back when some woman pointed them out to me, but she was just discovering them herself. So now food store aisles are all one-way. OK, I suppose I’ll start paying more attention to those. I wonder if someone ever went home and complained that some 3-star moron (i.e., me) wasn’t following the aisle arrows?
I finally heard from a friend in Hungary, and she seems to be doing OK. I will learn more this weekend. I was afraid; she’s had frail health for some years, sometimes to the extent she’s been bed-ridden. My concerns are two-fold: her physical health, and her employment. She’s an English language teacher — the best I know. She is infamously brutal (her students fear her), but her students are also known to excel with above-average English skills. I can’t imagine her school is still operating, but I will find out.
I am pulling back from Facebook a bit. I never really took it seriously, but it’s been a nice tool to keep track of extended family, friends and old colleagues who don’t live nearby — the people you don’t get to meet regularly. But unfortunately, a sizable portion of my networking community are, for lack of a better term, rightwing nutjobs. It isn’t just their politics that grates on my nerves, but their propensity to rant, and worst, their slavish adherence to the rightwing propaganda machine that spews non-stop fear and outrage. Every day I know what Fox News or Sean Hannity or etc. have said, because it ripples out through Facebookworld like a virus, with so many people just repeating verbatim what they saw on their favorite show. Each day I see the exact same talking points repeated mindlessly on homepages, often word-for-word. They’re scared, I get it — hey, I’m scared too — but we’re all under attack from a mindless microbe and no amount of culture war chest-pounding will save you. I am particularly concerned because some rightwing fools are pushing the narrative of COVID-19 being a hoax or exaggerated, and I’m seeing a small but growing number of their cult followers asserting they will stop doing what the CDC or gubmint’ tells them to, that it’s all some sort of conspiracy against freedom. It’s not just rank stupidity, it’s dangerous. I saw today that now more Americans have died from COVID-19 than died in the entire Vietnam War. This is dangerous stuff, and no time for fantasies. To be sure, there is a mirror base of nutjobs on the other side as well, but that group is far smaller.
I wonder if any of us will look back on these years and be ashamed?
Until then, be well —
April 26, 2020: Today cabin fever really set in so I piled the wife into the car and we headed for the coast. All along Route 1A there are these little pull-offs where you can park and either stroll or sit and watch the ocean. It doesn’t hurt that there are also mansions all along this route, some monstrously overwrought (i.e., gaudy) but some more stately and elegant, and well-sculpted into their environment. (We were visiting a beautiful historic Victorian-style garden in one of these houses a couple summers back, when we noticed the neighbors, whose house was what an Italianate mansion might look like in the Sims computer game, had splayed out on their vast front lawn a series of plaster (?) human figures made to look like marble, but many of which had apparently arrived damaged. Their wooden crates also laid about the lawn.) It was supposed to rain heavily today so I’d nixed these ideas yesterday, but as I saw the weather holding off this morning, I thought — why not? We would take a drive to the coast, and spend some time on the ocean, far from crowds, breathing in the salt air and listening to the waves crash on the rocks. Ahhhh.
But plans are designed to go awry. The first hint of a crack came as we headed out east on 101, and realized we were not alone. Now, I know the beaches are closed, so I was hoping they were going some place else. Portsmouth maybe? But no, as I got off onto Route 1, the crowd stayed with me. Same thing when I turned down 1A, a single lane road. So this large mass of vitamin D-deprived humanity snaked single-file all the way to the ocean. I could see five or six cars ahead of me, and two or three behind me, and the same group basically made the entire journey.
The next hint that today was not going to go as planned came as we approached the final exit on 101, where we found one of those temporary digital road signs informing us that all state parks are closed, and that there was no parking on Route 1A. Now, there are a few large scale parks along that road, so I was hoping the sign was referring to those. Besides, there were at least a dozen of those small pull-offs along the way, some with room for only 2-5 cars. It’s not like they could watch them all, right? We immediately began hatching a plot: we’ll pull off and enjoy as much time as we can, and if a cop came along then we’d play ignorant, but obligingly leave. (Yes, our morals were compromised.) But alas, we were wrong. They actually did manage to block every single one of them with orange cones and had cops aggressively patrolling the entire length of the route. And so this long convoy of out-of-towners (us among them) gazed out longingly over the ocean from our cars as we drove 30 mph all the way from the Hamptons to Portsmouth, unable to stop or park anywhere. You could see the same forlorn expression on everyone’s faces, and we each only went off on our separate ways after we arrived in Portsmouth.
Well, while not quite what we were hoping for, still, it was a pleasant drive, and a tonic to get out. The ocean is beautiful. And Route 1A is a very scenic drive with amazing ocean views and historic homes all along the way.
We also paid attention to the many businesses along the way. These were mostly seasonal seafood restaurants and boat supply places, which we speculated may be OK because they’re already seasonal and were prepared for a slow spring season. The pain for them will come if the summer season is impacted — and it may be. This route is also packed with museums, parks and historic sites, and we found ourselves repeating, “If we are allowed to go out this summer, we’ll have to stop and see this place…”
We drove around Portsmouth a little bit and crossed over into Kittery, Maine for no apparent reason. It still felt good to see these places again, and just get out of the house. (Note: when we got to the Maine side of the bridge, a flashing digital sign informed us that all non-Maine residents had to adhere to a 2 week self-quarantine upon entering the state. We just never got out of the car and high-tailed it back to New Hampshire.) We drove home on our favorite route which is more in the way of back roads, and as we passed through a jumble of small towns, we kept looking to see if businesses we like were still open, or at least not liquidated or gone forever. For many, it was hard to tell. One of the latter is a surprisingly sizable used bookstore, in the middle of nowhere, but so well stocked and operated by an ancient man. I hope he and the store make it.
Finally, I’ll mention what a hazard it is driving now that so many people are out biking, jogging and walking. They make sidewalks for a reason, people! Use ’em!
Be well —
April 23, 2020: So today I had to grab something in Walmart while on lunch from work. I ended up chatting with the guy who helped me at the counter, after he fielded two calls about bikes. He told me this particular Walmart ended up hiring an outside company to assemble bicycles — 50 just this morning, in the back of the store. And he said they’ve all already been sold. They can’t keep them in stock; people are clamoring for them. Another store employee walked by at one point pushing two kids bikes towards the registers. Makes sense; folks are stuck at home and getting cabin fever, made worse by the (kinda-sorta) arrival of spring. Add kids to the equation, and yeah, I’d pay lots of money to get my hands on a bike too. Actually, I have two good bikes in the garage, but they are in sore need of maintenance.
Also got some of the weekly food shopping out of the way today. The stores seem better stocked. I am keenly aware of how that will impact morale. About 2/3 of shoppers were wearing masks today. And for the most part, people seem civil, some friendly even. I go out of my way to be kind and friendly. It helps me to see this in others. One minor blip for myself was that some of the new face masks we’ve bought don’t fit my face. I must have the world’s weirdest head — nothing ever fits: glasses, hats, and now masks. I’ve got big ears so you’d think masks would be no problem, but the one I had today just kept launching itself off my face because my ear would just fold, catapulting the damned thing like a rubber band off in some direction. I gave up after a while. (I had plastic gloves on, at least.) Today was the first time I came to MarketBasket in weeks. They have some brands we prefer, and the line out front wasn’t too long. A new procedure now is that you must stand 6 feet from the end of the check out when waiting at the register, and after every customer the cashier sprays down and wipes the entire conveyor belt clean before you can start loading your stuff.
After work we took a walk around the yard, watching flowers poking up out of the soil and both trees and bushes budding. I love winter, but I love spring as well. Had a nice chat with one of our neighbors, a no-nonsense type of guy. He’s an odd duck. We suspect he and his wife don’t get along, because he seems to go to great lengths to develop handyman projects outside. Our little chat with him gave me some hope, because for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I always thought he was some rightwing nut. But he just said some common-sense stuff tonight — we’ll all get through this if everyone just does what the medical professionals tell us. I like being wrong about people sometimes. This filled me with the hope that the number of idiots in this country is smaller than our media would have us believe, that it’s the squeaky wheel syndrome that compels journalists to point cameras at and put microphones in front of the loudest, most obnoxious morons, but that in truth (I hope) they are really just a tiny minority, that most Americans are still decent, caring, conscientious, compassionate people.
Be well —
April 22, 2020: I have some friends (including my wife) who work in the medical manufacturing world, and they are under intense stress nowadays. This week, I’ve seen some pretty extreme emotional reactions among them. Of course, the emotions among those working directly in the healthcare delivery field must be through the roof — but just noticing how raw nerves are getting across the board.
April 20, 2020: The protests scare me. Several people, historians who had studied the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 included, predicted there would be this kind of unrest. People are afraid, the news every night is terrifying, and they feel powerless, trapped in their homes. Demagogues have harnessed that fear and people think this is some sort of civil rights issue. It is, as John the Younger put it, a no-holds barred primal war of microscopic organisms against vertebrates. We are fighting for our lives. I understand the fear and the hardship — but this is rank stupidity. I am really f**ing sick and tired of the culture wars, of this whiny cult of victimhood.
Yesterday we had an unusual distraction — a guilty pleasure, actually. My wife had mentioned that the local seasonal ice cream place was open — could that be right? In mid-April? But sure enough, as I passed it on my way to shopping this week, I saw it was open. And so yesterday, while slogging through some school work, she declared: let’s get some ice cream! Off we went. It felt good to drive, actually, if only for a few minutes. It was after 5.00 p.m. and maybe 50 degrees out, with a slight breeze, so I wasn’t sure the place would even be open. But not only was it open, but I underestimated my fellow detainees’ desperation to get out and do something — anything — “normal.” The entire time we were there, there was a constant flow of people coming and going, with a consistent dozen or so cars in the parking lot at all times. The line stretched around to the back, though this was in part because of the need to maintain ten-foot intervals marked on the sidewalk by mats. No cones, only cups, and you had to shout your order to the first window, Then you proceeded to the next window where you had to wait until the staff put your order out and closed the window before you could pick it up. No tables, but we enjoyed just standing in the back lot looking out across the valley, to the hills on the other side of the river. I got vanilla-chocolate soft serve swirl, she got pistachio-coffee. Also, no napkins so I had to endure an encrusted mustache until I got home. I noticed a lot of people were utilizing the place’s full take-out kitchen fare, serving burgers and hot dogs, etc. It was all great fun, but not something we can repeat often, if only for our waistlines, say nothing of COVID-19.
Yesterday I also caved in to the inevitable reality that my barber is closed, and allowed my wife to shave the noggin. Given that I lost most of my hair decades ago, it doesn’t take a Michelangelo of hairstylists to finesse my mane, and she did a decent job. Truth is, I go to my barber as much for the humor and conversation as the buzz cut.
I was stunned when I woke up Saturday ready for yard work, only to be confronted by snow. It was very pretty, actually. Just unexpected in mid-April. But, then, to be fair, I was once waiting for the light on the corner of Transit Road and Genesee Street in Depew, NY in the first week of June, when a snow squall suddenly enveloped the car. S*** happens, I guess.
Be well —
April 18, 2020: I hate masks. But I am wearing them when in public, at least indoors. They fog up my glasses constantly. Very annoying. But, fogged glasses is easier to deal with than an excruciating respiratory death, so I do it.
I note that more and more people are wearing masks, usually home-made ones in all sorts of colors and patterns. A cottage industry has sprung up with mostly women making these masks and either selling or distributing among family and friends. Through various channels we have bought or received a half dozen masks now. The local community boards online had lit up with people selling them, or even just giving them away.
Shopping is becoming a chore, and more items are becoming difficult to get. For us at least, nothing in the way of necessities is unavailable, it’s merely an inconvenience that stuff we’re used to being able to buy whenever we want is now difficult to find: want versus need. But I do fear that over time as supply chains thin out, more critical things will become problematic. It’s not that I fear for us so much; we’ll adapt. We have no choice. And most people will adapt. But there are some who may hit the panic button when they see basic commodities unavailable, and the ugliness may start appearing: rioting, violence, etc. The idiot protesters in Michigan yesterday prompted some of this thinking, people who are listening to ignorant propaganda telling them this can’t possibly really be happening. This fear of social unrest is just wandering in the back of my head. It is a reminder of the extraordinary times we’ve lived through until now, of an unprecedented era of opulence and choice. World War II-style rationing comes to mind as well; our future?
When I’ve been shopping recently, which is about all the social contact we’re getting nowadays, it feels a bit like the George Romero film Dawn of the Dead, when the protagonists who are trapped in a shopping mall during a zombie apocalypse. From a hiding spot they are talking while they’re observing the dead just stumble up and down the mall halls. One of the protagonists asks why the dead have congregated here, and the other responds that maybe because this was the place they felt the most value in life. Ouch.
I caught up (online) quickly with an old colleague and friend this morning who related that she somehow shattered a knee cap, but is being treated remotely by her doctor, with obviously limited capabilities and results. And forget physical therapy. Ouch again.
At least our writers group is still keeping up with meetings. That really helps with morale. People! Human beings!
Otherwise, still writing and reading, enjoying some films. I was planning on some yard work today (and still may) but it is currently snowing outside (note: mid-April). We check up on some old neighbors and do their shopping.
Be well —
April 15, 2020: So later today I will be meeting some local unemployed woman in a nearby business parking lot — for an illicit drug deal? An affair? Some illegal aliens smuggling? For secret files on the Kennedy assassination? Nope. She is making washable fabric face masks on the side, so I’ll be paying her $20 for two. She advertises on a local neighborhood forum. The snowballing consensus among medical professionals is that we ought to wear masks in public, for the foreseeable future. And so I will do so. I am a little concerned; she seemed to be making these masks out of whatever fabric was around her home, like from her curtains or the couch, so I hope I don’t get green plaid or polka dots. Well, function over form.
So my work went through another series of lay offs and reorganization today. There’s nothing like getting a call from the big boss mid-day, and his opening line is, “Um, do you have a few minutes…?” Why yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Luckily for me it was relatively good news, as I’m escaping with a changed job description and a temporarily shaved salary; some colleagues made out much worse.
My publisher contacted me today as well to let me know he’s really in deep financial doo-doo, so the second edition of my book is being postponed, possibly to October. (Quite frankly, I think that’s optimistic.) I expected as much. In the meantime, I’ll do what I do best — I’ll tinker with the manuscript, nipping and tucking, and maybe adding something about more recent events.
I am trying to be more vigilant about exercise and walking. So far so good, though the calf and thigh muscles are complaining. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now but the urgency is on as I saw a claim today from a medical source that so far in the U.S. the leading indicator of a COVID-19-positive person requiring hospitalization is not a pre-existing respiratory illness, but obesity. Yikes.
So far, we are still alive and employed.
Be well —
April 13, 2020: Well, the good news is I feel much better today. Last night I went to bed feeling like complete crap, like someone had tied a brick to my upper respiratory system. I took some Benedryl but it only made a minor dent in how I felt. I’ll admit I was kinda scared when I went to sleep, my concerns being both for my own hide, and how I was going to shield my wife from this. But, I woke up this morning in far better condition. Yesterday was a bright, beautiful spring day, and I spent some time out in the yard, and we went for a walk at one point. Very nice. In fact, now that I recall, it was Easter. Well, buried in all the atmospheric niceness was lots and lots of pollen. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself becoming more susceptible to seasonal allergies. When I was a youngun’ , I had no allergies at all which became a kind of liability as I was the only kid able to work in the top of a hay barn in August, and so that’s where I was deployed each summer. But now, as a fogie, the immune system seems to be showing some cracks, and indeed for some years now, each spring and autumn I get an irritated sinus system and roughed up throat. It’s usually fairly mild, just annoying. Yesterday was much more intense, not sure why. Why do I feel better today? Today was a monsoon day, with New Hampshire getting two inches of rain accompanied by 40-50 mile per hour winds. (The back window really looked like someone was throwing buckets of water at it this afternoon.) In other words, the pollen all got a soaking and my system got a break. I am grateful for the rain revealing what my issue was — something annoying, but minor. On that very relieved note, be well —
April 12, 2020: Today may be the game changer, at least for me. I’m not referring to the fact my wife washed my car clicker in the laundry, and I have to replace that. I woke up with an odd sinus irritation that extended to my eyes. About mid-day I chalked this up to seasonal allergies, which I usually struggle with each spring and autumn. But by the end of the day, I am not so sure. My whole upper respiratory system feels…off. Now, I am not a hypochondriac but you can’t help but panic in times like this. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow but I will completely stop going out for the next two weeks. The more difficult part will be protecting my wife.
Be well —
April 11, 2020: It’s becoming normal to see TV presenters who do live shows present from home, like Shields & Brooks. (Mark Shields’ house looks like mine, cluttered and filled with books. I’m kinda proud.) But David Brooks said something interesting, about the toll this is taking on people’s mental health. In our writers groups we’ve been joking about this, that we’re all introverts and some may not have even noticed there was a shelter-in-place order in effect. But really, this has made me realize what a home-body I am, that I have built a complex mental structure around my home so that I am entirely comfortable spending lots of time here. There is a tiny, pin-prick level awareness in the back of my mind that I’m stuck here, that I can’t (shouldn’t) leave — but I’m surrounded here by my work, by books, by a wonderful yard, by lots of fun films, and all sorts of stuff to do. This has also made me aware of my mental environment, about the realm in my head I’m interacting with when I walk around here, how I’m seeing very different things than what anyone else wandering my home might see — but that’s all another rabbit hole. In any event, though we feel the constraint of not being able to see friends or enjoy restaurants and casual shopping, we are pretty much all set. In the larger context of the world today, we’re doing OK.
And that, in turn (returning to Brooks’ point), has made me aware of the pain of those who have a very different relationship with their home. This includes those who simply have far more active social lives than me, for home home is more of a depository for their stuff while they’re out. And then there are those who’ve lost their jobs. That is terrifying. I’ve read stories of landlords working with tenants or even cancelling rent — but that sort of good will can only go on for so long. We are blessed so far, and both have our jobs (which not only pay the bills but take up some mental room as well, keeping us busy.) Some have claimed the 2008 economic crisis had a profound effect how Millennials see the world; I can only wonder how the younger generations will be shaped by COVID-19 and the resulting economic changes.
And that reminds me of a point John the Elder has made in the past, how people jolted out of their routines sometimes have great difficulty accepting their new reality. They refuse to believe what their eyes are telling them — because they’ve never seen this before, and desperately want to just keep doing things the way they used to. He has described scenes from his ER days where people suddenly confronted with an unexpected emergency — a health issue, a robbery, a car accident — and are paralyzed by the simple inability to accept what’s happening. This is an odd human trait, this weak sense of situational awareness, and I am seeing it at play a lot nowadays. I won’t claim that I myself am above this problem. I want to be able to just do things like pop out to the store to grab something I want, and yet if I imagine someone in the middle of the Bubonic Plague still going to markets for leisure shopping, it sounds insane.
It seems living requires thinking.
Be well —
April 9, 2020: This is my routine now. I went out yesterday to grab a couple things at the local corner food market. Once back in the car I squirted some hand sanitizer into my palm that my wife had put there years ago — the top had long since broken off, so you have to gently push this plastic tube sticking out of the bottle, and it’ll eventually deposit a small blob of 2008-era cleanser in your hands. I made sure to goop-up the steering wheel as well, then off we go.
Upon arriving home, I took the groceries into the kitchen, then washed my hands. Then I grabbed a sanitizing napkin and wiped down the surfaces of the stuff I’d just bought, then let it dry while I wiped down the door knob, door, my car door handle (inside and outside), steering wheel (extensively), the shift knob, my mirror, my GPS screen, and the seat belt clasp. Close and lock the car, go back into the house, clean the table and any surface I touched, and throw the napkin away. Then put the stuff I just bought into the fridge, and commence washing hands again.
And then usually at this point, by touching the water again, I realize I have to go to the bathroom, which will require Round 3 of hand-washing. I’m not going to have any hands left by the time this virus runs its course, just two bloody stumps.
Each evening I use the sanitary napkins to wipe down table and counter surfaces, the parts of the doors we touch, the light switches, the fridge and dishwasher handles, and our security system buttons.
Today was a day of heavy rains so little chance for a walk. I ended up in the basement on the treadmill after work. I’m probably more effective on a treadmill anyway; I just put music on and don’t stop until the music stops. The album ends and I’m a sweaty mess.
On a final and unrelated note, as proof of the psychological damage an American childhood has inflicted upon me, I realized while driving yesterday that I do something ridiculously childish. And I’ve been doing it for years. My car is pretty zippy — not that’s it’s a fast car or anything, but the weight-to-power ratio is such that its little engine can get going pretty quickly, usually faster than other cars at intersections, for instance. I’ve gotten used to being able to zip into traffic or past other cars when I need to maneuver in traffic, like changing lanes. All this becomes a problem when I drive a rental, and realize they can’t move as quickly as I’m used to. Well, when I blast off and leave everybody else in the dust, I feel compelled to blurt out loud, “Meep meep!”
Be well —
April 8, 2020: I am either too short, or poorly proportioned. Pants have never fit me well. I’m used to it, and don’t give it a second thought. When pants fit my waist, they are usually too long. (I’ll point out in my defense that this was true even when I was skinny.) The simple solution is I fold my jeans pant cuffs up. Works like a charm. Except that my wife hates it, claiming I look like Farmer Bob. My poor fashion sense aside, all of this went through my head this morning as I was getting dressed and, yes, rolled my jeans pant cuffs up. I next thought I should take this particular pair of jeans to a tailor I like in Londonderry for some shortening.
And then my next thought was — “Oh, I wonder if she’ll still be open when this is all over?”
That’s become a constant thought process for me in recent weeks, as I ponder normal, everyday activities and routines only to hit that wall and wonder whether a business I like will survive this. I generally try to patronize smaller, local businesses when I can, and so now a whole stream of places I like are going through my head as I imagine the day when this is all over (and I’m hopefully still here), and we can all get back to some normal life. This isn’t so much for my sake (“Where will I find another good tailor?”) but the people whom I’ve gotten to know at those businesses: the guy who repaired my wife’s boot heels, the small engine shop that got my chain saw running again last summer, the farm stands we love, that old guy who owns the small (but packed!) used bookstore in Northwood we discovered last summer, our beloved waitress at the Corner Booth in Halligan’s. Where will these people be when this is all over? Their faces keep popping into my mind as I go about my day and try to plan for that future.
I realized this week that I’ve probably put 30 miles on my car so far this month. I needed a few things today — not desperately, conveniences really — so I decided to take a jaunt to the local corner food shop, to get out a bit (on lunch from work), get some air, and make sure the oil didn’t solidify into a sludge in the car. I still don’t have a mask and felt guilty as I made my way through the place. I felt condemning eyes on me everywhere as I shopped. I was probably just being paranoid, but on some local neighborhood online boards a lot of people have been very critical of anyone they suspect of going out for frivolous reasons, and especially if they’re not wearing a mask. I swear — I’ll wear them once I get my hands on one. This has been the first time this week I’ve left home by car.
I have heard mumbled complaints about MarketBasket’s new policies. A couple folks I’m connected to on FB have said they’ll stop shopping there. I’m kind of torn about that. I understand the need for new rules, but MB’s does seem a bit extreme. The last few times I’ve been in their stores it’s felt like I’m being herded. I don’t like that sensation, but MarketBasket is probably doing the right thing. This is just a reminder of how bound up together our fates are as human beings, how linked and inter-connected we are by all these inter-woven supply chains we’re all dependent on. This is the price of having access to such a big variety of food and products.
Two daffodils poked up this week in the front yard, and a small shrub I wasn’t sure about suddenly showed signs of life today, sprouting pink buds. I see hope in that.
Be well —
April 7, 2020: Starting on a positive note, the oak tree out front is budding, as are several other trees in the yard, and two daffodils have opened. Iris and even day lily sprouts are poking up all over the place. Gonna be a pretty spring. I have inherited my grandfather’s love for field flowers: lillies, black-eyed susans, lupines, columbines, partridgeberry — love ’em all. Heck, I even like dandelions. When chatting last summer with the town DOT head — back when social contact was allowed — he mentioned that New Hampshire is being overrun by an invasive species: sumac trees. He hated the things, but I grew up with them along roadsides and in ditches in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties in southwestern New York. To me, they symbolize the heart of summer. Sorry, I didn’t bring them to New Hampshire, but I welcome them.
Speaking of social contact and town officials, I’m dying to be able to be able to visit the town sewer authority again, because they have this massive, full wall map of the town with each property outlined. It’s from the 1960s, I think. Last time I was there I only vaguely caught sight of my property, but I want to understand better where my back property line is. Behind the house there’s a large woods, but we’ve noticed as we’ve gone walking in the area that several very old, crumbled stone walls snake through the woods. Love to know more about the history of this place. I’ll also have to hit town hall and see what records they have. Also, the right hand back corner of my property is a Highway 66 for local critters of all sides. Per recommendations I have picked up a critter cam, and will be deploying as soon as I figure out how to use it. Videos to ensue. Man, I’ve become a fogey.
In the monthly New Hampshire Writers Project meeting last night — virtual; we miss you Martha — someone mentioned being cooped up and not seeing anyone. The irony for us is that we rarely saw our neighbors (beyond those immediately around us), until now. Now that everyone’s at home and not at work, everyone’s out walking their dogs or just getting some exercise. I’ve never seen so many people in our area. We live on a sizable hill, and I think the only one with a sidewalk in the whole town, so everybody comes here. And that’s fine with me. As we were walking today, a woman we’ve never met was approaching from the opposite direction, and she suddenly blurted out as she approached, “Now everybody hold their breath!” and she dramatically inhaled until her cheeks bulged as she passed by. We laughed. The news gets more and more serious every day, but at least in our experience, everyone (well, most) still have a sense of humor.
We are getting serious about getting masks. Apparently one of my wife’s friends (who also works in medical manufacturing) just took in a shipment of several thousand, so we’ll buy a couple off her. My wife described the specs but I don’t know anything about medical masks. Once procured, I do plan on wearing one while in public when out and about. And, admittedly, I will be trying to curtail the times when I need to go out to public places, for instance only shopping every other week. The yard and my writing will keep me occupied, though I also want to spend more time doing leisure reading. I’m thinking of doing an Asimov marathon this summer.
Be well —
April 4, 2020: People are starting to wear masks increasingly in public. A week or so ago it was mostly older people — I still flatter myself that I don’t fit into that category — and the most vulnerable, but now increasingly I’m seeing a broader cross section of people wearing masks. I saw an older gentleman today in Shaw’s wearing a military gas mask. (I have a West German Bundeswehr gas mask from the 1980s here somewhere. I wonder if the filter is still good…?) I was in New York for work the first week of February, and back then corona virus was some foreign problem. In Midtown Manhattan there were Chinese people in the streets wearing cloth masks, and it was a little unsettling. I’d seen many Asians wearing masks on TV and in news reports, but seeing them in person on the streets of New York, when nobody else around them was wearing any, just felt odd. You can feel things are getting serious now. People are more serious about maintaining distance. Well, good. It needs to be this way. My wife and I talked today about wearing masks. I rarely leave the house nowadays (well, outside the property, anyway), but she goes to work every day. I do leave a couple times a week, and would wear a mask — if they can be found.
We’re finally getting a string of nice days (weather-wise), so starting tomorrow I can start tackling some yard projects. My wife delivered some groceries this morning for an old neighbor of ours from when we lived in the condo. He’s 81 and terrified to go out. He wouldn’t come out to meet her (he waved through the window); she left the groceries on his porch and left. We are fully provisioned up, and are fine. (This is due to my Buffalo upbringing; every Buffalonian keeps enough basic supplies in storage for at least two weeks. You just assume that you’ll lose power and be snowed in for at least a week.) So in a sense, we’ve been hoarding for years, just spreading it out over time so that now all I need buy each week are some perishables.
In the larger sense, we (my wife and I) are doing fine, and pretty well set up. But as I’ve said, I am constantly fighting a rearguard action against this tide of fear that constantly threatens to overwhelm me. Luckily, there’s plenty to do (besides work) and we are stocked with writing projects, books, DVDs, music, and yard work. As I said, we’re fine. But as we keep seeing the stories each night on the news of younger people struck down by this, and I can’t help but think: why them, and not me? It’s like bobbing up and down on the ocean’s surface, treading water far from shore, and occasionally someone gets grabbed by something deadly beneath the surface. Nobody knows why it chooses which victims.
But today we live. Be well —
April 2, 2020: A month or so ago I joked that we would have to change the calendar, to “BC19” and “C19E” — “Before C-19” and “In the C-19 Era.” But this really has become a game changer, something that is redefining the world we live in.
Marketbasket has initiated new policies whereby only a certain number of people are allowed in stores at a time. When that number is reached, everyone else has to wait outside, at 6 foot intervals marked by blue tape. One woman today became testy when she stood directly behind the person in front of her, and had to be reminded to back up to the tape. I admit I reacted with anger when I saw her, but in truth it’s just habit. I also find myself doing things the way I’ve always done them, and have to remember (or be reminded) that things are different now. Once inside, a Marketbasket employee sprays a cart down with disinfectant, and gives it to you — and you’re on your way. Stores are keeping themselves stocked, while also engaging in huge cleaning exercises each night. On the whole, today’s incident notwithstanding, spirits seem to be high and people are decent to one another. I think boredom is the primary challenge now. As David Brooks observes, fear is coming, hopefully not to devolve into panic. I don’t want to find myself in a Lord of the Flies show, and so I am particularly mindful of being kind and patient as I interact with people.
Yesterday, an old high school friend who has had a pretty rough year, including a divorce, suddenly posted on Facebook that she was getting married. This set off all sorts of alarm bells, including in my mind, and I could see many of her friends very gently inquiring about this sudden news, being very delicate and careful not to reveal the concern we all felt — only to have her respond at day’s end that it was April 1st: April Fools, fools! Totally forgot, and the news in general has been so dire recently, we all just lost sight of humor. Thanks for the laugh, Vick —
My wife is working much more, which has me worried. But, as always, we have to be happy to have jobs. She left at 5.00 this a.m., and hopes to be home before 9.00 p.m. Welcome to the new economy. I was reading some reports that prophesied a slaughter of smaller businesses and even greater market dominance and concentration for mega-businesses. Unless the Federal government takes action, we will enter a new Dark Ages of monopolies; we’re already 2/3 of the way there. Paging Teddy Roosevelt.
The news is indeed becoming more and more dire. For us, the real impact has so far been marginal, more in the way of annoying than life-altering, but we’re very aware of others suffering. On the positive side, it’s nice to walk around and see the neighbors working in their yards, taking on projects long relegated to clipboards and the proverbial rainy day.
Addendum: I should mention that the constant hand-washing has really done brutal things to my delicate, supple skin. I normally suffer from eczema in the cold months, and the skin on my hands just naturally dries and cracks. Once, while waiting in line in Dallas-Ft Worth Airport, a cop approached me and asked if I needed medical treatment. I asked why, and he pointed down; the skin on my knuckles had dried and cracked, and I’d bled, leaving a 4″-wide puddle on the floor. (My apologies to the airport cleaning staff.) But this eczema usually goes away when the daily temps consistently hit 50 degrees or more. We’re in that part of spring that is borderline, with some days in the 50s and 60s, but nights in the 30s. Well, regardless, this year my constant hand-washing has thrown the whole system off. I have dried cracks everywhere on my hands. Often I’m not even aware this is happening (reference the Dallas anecdote) but now it is painful, and these cracks are developing in places where it is hard to set and heal. By now I think my hands are just balls of that liquid band-aid stuff. I’m just using regular hand soap, not any fancy kill-all-microbes desanitizers. A minor complaint, but ouch, dammit.
Be well —
March 31, 2020: The state released town-by-town data yesterday, revealing that between 1 and 4 cases have been confirmed in my dinky little town. This isn’t surprising because while small, it is really — even this far north — a suburb of Boston, or of eastern Massachusetts. This is what they call a “bedroom community,” a nice and scenic town that people come home to every day after working someplace else. In other words, the jobs are mostly somewhere else. This was an old mill town once, one of the Merrimack River textile towns that had so many immigrants a century ago that one contemporary source complained the town was essentially Francophone. Well, this is all to say that every day a large portion of the town travels to more populous southern New Hampshire or Massachusetts for work, which brings them into contact with a lot more people. I guess I’m grateful that only 1-4 locals are (confirmed) infected so far. I just read a new analysis that claims New Hampshire should expect to lose 350-400 people from this crisis. To date 3 people have died from COVID-19 in New Hampshire, all apparently people with other, severe medical issues.
Something scary happened this week, something I’ve quietly feared for a while. In Hungary, the wanna-be authoritarian president, Viktor Orbán, has made his move. Up until now he has used intimidation and fraud to win elections, and much the same to get his way with the Hungarian Parliament, but he’s at least felt constrained by this democratic window dressing to play by (some of) the rules. But no longer; this week he used the excuse of the CODID-19 crisis to get Parliament to give him extraordinary powers to rule by decree “for the duration of the crisis.” This crisis may present a lot of authoritarian-minded rulers an excuse to seize more power. Beware. I fear for an old friend, my old Hungarian language teacher, actually, who has been elected to a seat on the Budapest city council for the opposition. He’s been very vocal in his criticism of the Orbán regime — dangerous behavior nowadays.
So what does the world look like in Week 3 of this crisis? I see a lot of bored, furloughed neighbors out walking their dogs. So far it’s all been very friendly, and everybody waves. On the local online neighborhood discussion boards, people are reaching out to help neighbors. The local police ran a food drive for the unemployed. My wife burst out laughing when she saw a TV commercial from Angel Soft promising they were increasing their production capacity to pump up the supply of toilet paper. Seriously? When I picked up my prescription this morning, I had to stand at 6 feet intervals (marked by blue tape on the floor) in the line up to the pharmacy window. There’s a nice local corner food shop that’s been functioning pretty much as usual through all this (so far), with the exception of a 2-roll limit on toilet paper purchases, and a large plexi-glass screen erected at registers to prevent cashier and customer from breathing on one another. (I joked with a fellow customer in line, 6 feet behind me, that this would be a great idea for teenage dating. She loved it, but suggested teenagers themselves might be less enthusiastic.) I know a lot of local businesses have closed — hopefully temporarily — but the impact hasn’t really made itself felt yet because some of them were seasonal anyway.
We have also been walking around the area. My wife has taken up as a new hobby trying to pin down the identity of a local ghost house. Essentially, in the evenings from our back window, the lights of three windows on a house can be seen through the woods — but there’s no house there. We walk that route constantly, and each time try to figure out what the lights could be. We’ve looked at them with a telescope, which gave me one idea, that they may be a combination of large rocks and possibly snow reflecting light from street lights. But gal-durn it, if it doesn’t look each evening as if there’s a house not far behind our own home — when we know there’s nothing but woods for miles.
Be well —
March 29, 2020: Every day the news becomes more serious. When I was a student in Hungary sometime in the late 80s or first half of the 90s, I can distinctly remember the look of disgust a visiting American professor gave me when I confessed I hadn’t known anyone who had died of AIDs. He was from CUNY and was surrounded by people afflicted, but I just didn’t know anyone who had AIDs, or at least had told me they had AIDs. His look made it clear he considered me a provincial yokel, living under some rock. Apparently my circumstances haven’t changed because so far, COVID-19 has similarly been an abstract experience; I don’t know anyone personally who has caught the virus. And I’m OK with that; I know plenty of people (including my parents) who fall into higher risk categories. Ignorance is bliss, if selfish.
Actually, I’m wondering if I haven’t already had COVID-19, in milder form. Back in January my wife brought home from work (where she comes into daily contact with manufactured materials from all over the world, including China) a very nasty respiratory cold that was hard to shake, with a cough that lasted a good month after the other symptoms ended. We both ended up with this thing. I’ve never smoked and rarely have respiratory problems beyond colds, but this thing really hung on. I’ve never had pneumonia or bronchitis, for instance. We both also had gotten our flu shot back in November or so. We didn’t have the sore back that some people describe, but it oddly remained fixated on our respiratory systems, not bothering with the digestive symptoms that often accompany colds and flus. I do recall a very mild temperature one of the early nights. Well about two weeks after the main symptoms ended I attended the Flash Fiction, thinking that I was long past being contagious, and met several other fellow sufferers who had had the same malady, and all apparently thought like me they were now safe for social contact. We were wrong. The very next day several others who attended reported the immediate onset of some nasty symptoms. My apologies. But one wonders.
Anyway, as another week passes, the truth is I’m used to isolation and kind of like it. I do have to do some footwork to keep the wife from going stir crazy, but I go into project mode. As spring approaches, I need to make a wooden mount for new house numbers for out front, and — proof I’m entering my fuddy-duddy stage — I’m planning a series of bird houses for the back yard. I dream of making a purple martin hotel some day. On a more serious level, I note the back porch needs attention, and I have to fill in some mortar around the stone foundation. And the garage needs better organizing…
Be well —
March 27, 2020: “Hey dude, love your shirt!” That’s what I heard when leaving the store yesterday, on my way out. That sort of thing would normally make my wife cringe — she hates my tie-dyed shirts — but she was not with me. It was a nice injection of normalcy in an abnormal situation. I was doing my weekly shopping, and as soon as I walked in the front door I went on autopilot. That entails wandering up and down each aisle with a list, finding my stuff, and getting out. But I’m always amazed by supply chains and pay attention to where everything comes from. So there I am, after work, just doing my weekly shopping routine, but also carefully not panicking. Some people were; they had loaded their carts with all sorts of crap they likely will be throwing out in a couple weeks. But I just focused on getting what I needed for this week. I’ll be back next week. And so I settled in to a nice, leisurely stroll down the aisles, exchanging niceties with folks along the way.
Until, that is, the announcement came over the store speakers that the place was closing in 15 minutes. It was quarter to six p.m. on a Thursday night. Well, this was new. Admittedly, I ignored a bunch of crimson-font signs on the way in, assuming they all said things like don’t kiss anybody, and only two rolls of toilet paper allowed per customer — but apparently I’d missed the one saying the store closed at 6.00 p.m. on a week night. I’m not sure what the logic behind that was. One fellow shopper in the long lines at the registers speculated it was to allow time to re-stack shelves, but seriously — I was a stockboy when I was 14 years old, and it wouldn’t have taken me all night to do that place. So what ensued upon the announcement was a mad dash as all of us, yours truly included, suddenly had just 15 minutes to grab what we needed and get out. It was a great way to induce a panic. And they got one. Maybe the idea was that cutting store hours would discourage hoarding? If so, it seems to me that there are more effective ways to do that.
In any event, this all added up to me being quite flustered and frustrated by the time I did get through the registers, and so it was a pleasant surprise to have someone suddenly inject some sense of normalcy back into my life with the compliment about the shirt. Thank you, Sir, wherever you are.
On a side note, my father reminded me of an old 1970s Pat McManus story about a guy trapped in a mountain cabin during a blizzard that I need to dig up. Pat McManus is a great antidote for cabin fever — well, for anything, really.
Be well —
March 26, 2020: Went to the bank today and had to do the drive-through. (Bank lobbies are closed.) I haven’t done that in decades. I have to admit it was fun, playing with the pneumatic tube. I could also tell the over-worked teller was not impressed with my childhood sense of wonderment with 20th century technologies.
I next moved on to a local supermarket for a couple things, and found myself standing and cleaning my hands vigorously at the sanitizer stations they’ve set up by the entrances. This whole experience has made me much more aware of my relationship with surfaces, and I’ve developed a sort of tactile sensitivity recently. I have taken the approach friends from India taught me years ago, of a dirty (left) hand and a clean (right) hand, so there’s a division of labor between my hands as far as how I interact with my environment. When I was standing in line, the cashier cracked a joke with the customers in front of me, two women in their forties or so, about the need for such extreme precautions. One woman burst into laughter, while her companion did so more slowly, looking at her, finally commenting, “I know why she’s laughing.” The first woman nodded and mentioned she’s been a life-long extreme germophobe; the rest of the world is just now catching up to her lifestyle.
My trip to the food store took place over lunch so the store was relatively empty, but people were still civil. Both today and before I’ve seen examples of store managers having to firmly explain why there are limits on some items, as some people are still in hoard mode. (One article I read this morning written by a banking analyst said bluntly, there’s enough toilet paper. We know this because there was no shortage before COVID-19, and there’s nothing about COVID-19 that requires people to use more toilet paper than usual. Clearly toilet paper-hoarding is just a panic reaction.) But on the whole, civilization seems to keep plodding forth. I am grateful for that.
I did catch while in a small, local food place yesterday that even they have taken to hiring extra stock people for the night shifts recently. Apparently Marketbasket, Shaws and others have all been doing this, so that behind the scenes at night when stores close there’s been a massive effort to restock shelves, both to simply keep supplies flowing but also (I suspect with some nudging by state authorities) to fend off any panic: people can walk into these food stores at any time and see the shelves (mostly) full, as usual, which is a kind of reassurance. Imagine walking into your local food store and seeing the shelves ransacked and empty, and knowing you still had another month of quarantine…
We are concerned about our neighbors. I notice one is working in his yard a lot this week, and I haven’t seen he other go to work recently. We are blessed with good neighbors; I hope their finances hold out.
March 25, 2020: In this space I’ll be sharing some thoughts, stirrings and observations about my experience of the isolation we’re all living with under the threat of COVID-19. These are extraordinary times, and we’re all struggling to adjust to new normals. I’ve read many times about the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, so it is terrifying to see something similar happening now, today, in my lifetime. On the news tonight they showed a new temporary morgue being constructed in the parking lot of some hospital in New York, which reminded me of pictures from 1918 of coffins stacked high on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, NY.
In a sense, I’m grateful for this experience. It helps me understand the fear and sense of helplessness people must have felt a century ago, of how we have to hope the people in charge know what they’re doing. The buffoon who gets all the news coverage surely does not, but others have risen to the occasion. I also appreciate being jolted out of my routines, and reminded of our shared humanity. Quite frankly, with the way our politics has been going recently, I am particularly grateful for something that transcends the noise and reminds us (if brutally) what in life is really important. As a historian, I am also intrigued by how our many overlapping systems work and interact; disruption like this reveals what is connected to what, and what they all mean to us.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t…concerned. No, scared. Shitless. This is a disease that has behaved in some unpredictable ways, leaving some with an annoying joint ache and others with severely damaged lungs — and worse. I am in a lower risk category, but I’m a life form highly susceptible to COVID-19 like all my fellow humans, and have no idea how my body will react. And then there’s my wife, who works in what has been deemed an essential industry just this week, and must report in every day she can… Family, friends; it’s like we’re trapped in a horror film where some silent killer stalks among us. And I worry about the economic impact as well. In a bizarre irony, my company finds itself in an unusually stable moment, and may actually weather this. But so many others are not so lucky. One of my favorite local restaurants closed last Friday, and told me they weren’t sure if they’ll be able to reopen.
For the moment, it seems people are taking things in stride and being civil. My occasional forays to the supermarket or for other local needs have so far been pretty pleasant experiences, actually. People joke, share anecdotes, and give each other some room. I’ve seen some of the panic hoarding, but not not as much as is reported on the news. I get it — they’re scared, and there’s this impulse to just do something. I worry that panic may spread as this draws out. David Brooks commented about the 1918-1919 influenza crisis, that many tried afterward to blot it from their memory — not just because of the horrors of seeing so many die, but also because they were so ashamed of how they’d behaved to their neighbors and strangers in moments of stressed-out rage and panic. We haven’t seen that yet, but this crisis is still in its early stages. On tonight’s news some experts projected the peak for New York’s unfolding horror as being at best a few weeks in the future still.
I plan to continue to add to this so long as this crisis endures, and encourage others to do the same — either consider starting their own online journals, hopefully here on the WFoD blog, or even just add their thoughts and experiences to this column alongside mine.